Hong Kong rugby union squad facing tough decisions
Difficult decisions loom for selection of sevens and 15s as dates for important fixtures clash
A clash between sevens and 15-a-side commitments will force Hong Kong into a difficult juggling act over player availability in May.
The men's national teams have set lofty ambitions of becoming a core unit in the HSBC Sevens World Series as well as qualifying for the 2015 World Cup (15s).
This year's schedule for the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five competition will see Hong Kong away to the Philippines on May 4. The weekend after, the sevens squad sees action at the London Sevens, which is the qualifying competition for core-team status next season.
"We will have to do a balancing act as both competitions are crucial. This season's A5N Top Five is vital for our World Cup campaign next season while winning core-team status is also a goal," said Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's head of performance Dai Rees. "A decision will have to be made on whether we use the same players in both [Philippines and London] or pick separate sides."
With a small player base, Rees might be forced to call upon the services of sevens stalwarts such as Rowan Varty, Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Jamie Hood and Nick Hewson for the Philippines.
"It is important that we remain in the top five in 2014 which is a World Cup qualifying year. To do that, we have to win at least two games this season and, as such, the game against the Philippines will be vital," Rees said.
Hong Kong will open the A5N Top Five competition this season hosting the United Arab Emirates and defending champions Japan at home on successive weekends in late April. They will then play away to the Philippines in Manila and South Korea in Seoul on May 4 and May 18 respectively.
The problem is that the final leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series, on May 11-12 in London, is sandwiched in between these matches. This will force Rees to take a gamble on saving his sevens stars for London or playing them against the Philippines, which will be a must-win game.
Last year Hong Kong lost to Japan and South Korea. Hong Kong, and perennial champions Japan, have never been relegated from the Top Five competition.
A 15-strong sevens squad will start training next week for the important season ahead - it also includes the Rugby World Cup Sevens in June in Moscow - with most of the players also crucial cogs in the 15-a-side set-up.
"We rested nine of our sevens players from the ECON (Emirates Airlines Cup of Nations) tournament in December in Dubai and it was a good break for them," Rees said.
"But now we have to decide if we are to separate the sevens and 15s squads again. The goals for both the squads are important."