Hong Kong squad face tough campaign at Harare Sevens
After gruelling flight to Harare, Rees' squad expect tough opposition in core-team quest
After a gruelling 24-hour journey, it will not get any easier for Hong Kong at the Harare Sevens this weekend, with both Kenya and South Africa, core teams on the World Series, having packed their sides with regulars as part of their build-up for the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens this month.
"It isn't the easiest place to get to," said Hong Kong coach Dai Rees on the eve of the two-day Spar Sevens in Zimbabwe. "We had two 10-hour flights, but luckily the guys had a good long sleep soon after we arrived in Harare and we are now ready to go."
This is the only competitive tournament captain Rowan Varty and his men will take part in before the Hong Kong Sevens, the first step in the qualifying campaign to become a core team next season. Hong Kong are already in the final qualifiers - the London Sevens in May - and aim to peak for that.
"This is our first tournament this season and it will be a crucial one. This is first and foremost a training weekend with a tournament, rather than going in intent on winning," Rees said. "Of course, it would be great to come back with something from Harare, but what we have been wanting to do all along is to build intensity ahead of the Hong Kong Sevens and we are excited to be able to have the opportunity to play against a couple of top sides that will also be in Hong Kong."
South African sevens coach Paul Treu has brought a development squad, including seven members of the team who won the Las Vegas Sevens, the last leg of the World Series. Kenya, who are drawn with Hong Kong in the preliminary rounds will field their top squad while Zimbabwe and Georgia, both of whom will be at the Hong Kong Sevens, will also be tough.
Meanwhile, young back-row forwards Mike Ellery and Richard de Carpentier have been called up by England sevens coach Ben Ryan for Hong Kong.
England are undergoing a prolonged drought at this home-away-from-home tournament with their last Cup victory coming in 2006. Ryan is hoping the inclusion of Moseley loose forward Ellery and Worcester Warriors flanker De Carpentier will add much-needed firepower and ball-winning ability to the squad, who won in Wellington, but have otherwise not been great.
Ellery, 23, has been sidelined by a back injury since last summer and is set to make his series debut while De Carpentier, 22, returns after almost two years since his last appearance in an England sevens shirt.
"They bring extra physicality to our squad and they are both talented back-row players with good aerial skills, which means we have a strong core of forwards available to us," said Ryan.
England return with seven of the squad who reached the Cup semi-finals. They are skipper Rob Vickerman, Mat Turner, James Rodwell, Tom Powell, Dan Norton, Christian Lewis-Pratt and John Brake. The remaining members are Sam Edgerley, Marcus Watson and Jeff Williams.