Hong Kong Sports Institute's new rugby coaches target Olympics
Welshman and New Zealander unveiled as HKSI's men's and women's trainers with the Asian Games and Rio 2016 their key challenges
The 2016 Olympics will be the number one target for Gareth Baber and Anna Richards when they take charge of the men's and women's rugby sevens squad at the Hong Kong Sports Institute next month, said a top official of the union yesterday.
"Now the real work must begin and we hope our group of staff and players at the Sports Institute, led by Gareth Baber and Anna Richards, will help us qualify for the next Olympics," said Dai Rees, who this weekend will be hands-on for the last time as national sevens head coach at the Singapore Sevens, where Hong Kong will be defending their Asian Sevens crown.
Ex-Wales sevens coach Baber and former New Zealand Black Fern star Richards were announced yesterday as the new head coach and women's coach respectively at the elite training academy in Fo Tan. They will take up their positions in January, although Richards will travel with the women's squad to India for the final leg of the Asian Sevens Series in Pune this weekend.
HKSI chief executive Trisha Leahy, welcoming the two coaches, said: "[The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union] has established a very successful high-performance system, prior to entry into the Hong Kong Sports Institute and we are confident that the appointment of these two highly regarded sevens' coaches will add value and lead to even better results on the international stage."
Rugby sevens is the only team sport in the elite category at the HKSI by virtue of a string of good results at all levels - men's and juniors. The Hong Kong men won the silver medal at the last Asian Games in 2010 and are also the defending champions in the annual Asian Series, which ends this weekend in Singapore.
Expectations have now been raised and while winning a medal - preferably the gold - at the Asian Games next year in Incheon, South Korea will still be a priority, the main task is qualifying for Rio de Janeiro in 2016 when sevens makes its Olympic debut.
"Absolutely that will be our goal," said Baber at a ceremony at King's Park yesterday. "The HKRFU and the HKSI have already created a superb platform and the ambition is to make it to the Olympics. But we are under no illusions and I know we have a job on our hands to get there."
Rees will now assume a new position as the HKRFU's head of technical development and performance, a position that will move him away from direct coaching where in the past couple of seasons he has been mainly involved with the sevens squad. That role will now be filled by Baber, a former Cardiff Blues backs coach who also played for Wales at sevens.
"I have played many times for Wales at the Hong Kong Sevens, and also coached them here. I understand how important sevens is to Hong Kong and what a strong tradition rugby has in this town," said Baber.
"While the aim will be to win every tournament we take part in, my task will also be to develop players as well."
He will have around 50 players - men, women and juniors, full-time and part-time - in his programme at the institute.
Three-time World Cup winner Richards will, like Baber, be based at the elite academy. A dashing flyhalf for New Zealand, Richards has been labelled as perhaps the world's most accomplished player.
"Having Gareth and Anna on board is great news for local rugby. Gareth is the ideal fit for the role of head coach while it is a real coup to get Anna to lead our women athletes," Rees said.