HK squad has a lot of ground to cover
With the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five competition looming in April, Hong Kong head coach Dai Rees will have to walk a tightrope over the next few weeks as he juggles the small pool of elite players available to him between the glamour of sevens rugby and the more 'bread and butter' 15s game.
A 12-strong Hong Kong squad led by Rowan Varty will leave on Friday for the Bangkok Sevens, the delayed leg from last season's HSBC Asian Sevens Series. It will be the start of a hectic schedule for the top players over the next few weeks. The sevens team will take part in two legs of the HSBC Sevens World Series - the Hong Kong Sevens and the Japan Sevens on successive weekends - followed by the start of the Asian Five Nations at the end of April.
'It is going to be a balancing act as we have to carefully look at preserving our small group of players through both our sevens and 15s commitments. Our bread and butter are the Asian Five Nations and our focus will be on finishing in the top two and retaining our world ranking. But we cannot ignore the sevens,' Rees said yesterday.
'The fact that we can now effectively have squads capable of preparing for sevens and for 15s indicates the depth we have been able to develop in the past few seasons, but we need to earmark certain players who may be more instrumental in helping to bring the 15s squad together while the sevens squad is being prepared.'
Rees has a squad of around 30 players at the elite level with almost half of them playing both disciplines. It is this lot of players he will have to shepherd through the sevens campaign, and hope that they will be injury-free by the time the Asian Five Nations commences on April 27 with a game away to the United Arab Emirates in Dubai.
'We don't have the luxury of having 60 or 70 players all at the same standard at the top. While our pool of players has increased in recent times, we still don't have a huge base in key positions like back-row forwards, some of whom also play sevens.'
Apart from the forwards, Rees will also keep an eagle eye on key players like flyhalf Keith Robertson, winger Salom Yiu Kam-shing, centre/fullback Varty and utility backs the McQueen brothers, Tom and Alex, who all play both codes.
Hong Kong will field a strong side in Bangkok this weekend with Rees using it as a trial for the Hong Kong Sevens and Japan Sevens.
'I will most probably use a 16-man squad for both those tournaments. I don't think everyone will play in both events,' Rees said.
Hong Kong have been drawn with Malaysia, Thailand and Pakistan in pool competition at the Bangkok Sevens.
The target is to reach the final, where they would most probably come up against Japan.
Rowan Varty (captain), Kwok Ka-chun, Simon Leung Ho-yam, Ross Armour, Lee Jones, Anthony Haynes, Fan Shun-kei, Alex McQueen, Keith Robertson, Ally McClay, Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Tom McQueen