Fears raised over sevens rule
Fears that some players might be undone at the 'most competitive Hong Kong Sevens ever' have prompted New Zealand mastermind Gordon Tietjens to question the International Rugby Board's decision to allow teams only the usual three substitutes per game.
'The nature of this year's Hong Kong Sevens is such that there are no easy games,' said Tietjens. 'I will have to field my best line-up for every game and, unfortunately, this will mean some players won't get the necessary game time as we can only use three subs.'
'If there is an injury later on, this could have a huge effect and change the entire dynamics of the side,' he said. 'We have seen this in the past. It would be better if all five subs can be used in every match.'
Last year, despite an injury to skipper D.J. Forbes on the last day, New Zealand still went on to win the Cup title.
Tietjens is concerned that if something similar happened again, it would mean some of his rookies might be undone in the latter stages of a tournament, which he described as having 'different pressures' from the rest of the tournaments on the HSBC Sevens World Series. Seven of his players are turning out for the first time in Hong Kong.
'It would have been better if the IRB had allowed us to use our entire bench of five players as they did at the start of the season,' Tietjens (pictured) said. 'I can see lots of teams struggling in the event of injury.'
The IRB allowed teams to use all five replacements in every game during the opening three legs on the Gold Coast, Dubai and Port Elizabeth as it was the first time three tournaments were played back-to-back.
But the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens has been split into two separate competitions for the first time. The intensity at the sold-out Hong Kong Stadium is expected to ratchet up this weekend as the top 12 sides fight it out for series points and the remaining 12 teams battle for one of three new berths as a core team next season.
Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chairman Trevor Gregory said yesterday: 'The revolutionary changes introduced this year would make this the most competitive Hong Kong Sevens ever.'
While Tietjens was wishful about the issue, his England counterpart Ben Ryan was stoical, saying teams had to make do with the existing circumstances. 'It is what it is,' said Ryan. 'These are the rules, which have been set and we have to play to those rules. I could wish for Jonny Wilkinson to be on the bench, but there is no point hoping for that.'
However, several teams have been lobbying the IRB to change its existing rule on replacements, but any changes will only come into effect next season and not this weekend, much to the disappointment of sides like Canada, Russia and Hong Kong, all of whom are in the dog-eat-dog qualifying competition.
'As a developing nation, it would be best if we could use all 12 players,' Hong Kong coach Dai Rees said. 'We are all part-time athletes and it would be great if everyone could be fielded so we could nurse the side through what will be a tough competition.'
Henry Paul, a former winner with England and now coach of Russia, said: 'It would be great if we could have use of the extra subs. Qualifying and becoming a core team is a massive part of our preparation to hosting the World Cup Sevens next year in Moscow and it all starts here.'
Canada coach Geraint John added: 'We can argue about it all day, but we have to make do with what [rules] we have. But I believe it is one of the issues to be addressed by the IRB going ahead.'
While everyone agreed that the new-look tournament will be a dog-fight from day one, for Ryan nothing has changed. 'There is no difference really,' said the England coach. 'We still have got to go out and beat our opponents. It will be normal service for the teams.'