In partnership with the HKRFU
England ready to win first Sevens title since 2006
Crowd favourites are banking on return to form of Mat Turner and a strong back line to capture first Hong Kong title in seven years
The return to form of Mat Turner, last year's top try-scorer in the HSBC Sevens World Series, will give England a massive boost as the crowd favourites seek to break a six-year Cup drought on Sunday, coach Ben Ryan said yesterday.
While the two most successful teams in the history of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, Fiji and New Zealand, will turn out relatively inexperienced teams - each having only three players who have experienced the pressure-cooker environment of knockout Sunday - England will for the first time this season be able to field a solid core of players who have tasted the frenetic atmosphere at So Kon Po.
Among them is Turner, who broke his leg in the opening leg at the Gold Coast Sevens in October. He returned to action at the Wellington Sevens last month, helping England shrug off a bad start to the season and retain their crown in New Zealand.
"Mat did well to string together decent performances in Wellington. But he was knackered and really tired in the subsequent leg in Las Vegas," Ryan said. "I wanted a replacement but we didn't have anyone fit at home and it was same for half the side. They were tired and it caught up with them."
England finished bottom of their pool in Vegas and failed to make the Cup quarter-finals for the fourth time this season.
"But Mat is now a lot fitter which means he can probably last the pace a little bit better," Ryan said.
"Is he back to his best? He is still recovering but I certainly think he is a threat and is looking good in training. But so are others like Dan Norton and Marcus Watson. If you're the opposition and you look up and see a backline which has got Mat Turner, Dan Norton and Marcus Watson, you are going to get very worried. If these guys are given the space, they will be dangerous."
After the opening three legs - Gold Coast, Dubai and Port Elizabeth - England were in the relegation zone.
"I wasn't worried. I knew eventually we would get everyone fit and healthy. But crikey, after the first two games in our first tournament we had a concussion, two broken legs and an ACL ligament knee injury. We were left shell-shocked and it took the wind out of our sails.
"In Dubai, we had another broken leg [Tom Mitchell] and the captain [Rob Vickerman] got knocked out as well, both in the first two games. We put in some good youngsters, and in the long run it is going to help us, but it is good to have the experienced heads back," Ryan said.
Ryan said you can never rule out defending champions Fiji and New Zealand, who are both struggling with injuries and playing a number of greenhorns.
"New Zealand still has guys who've won this tournament and their experience will count. And although Fiji have debutants, we all know how big the Hong Kong Sevens is in Fiji. My bigger worry is Samoa in our group. They are a huge threat."
"I hope the Hong Kong factor - the crowd support puts a spring in our steps and is worth an extra five points per game - will work for us."
Sevens blog: I lived to tell the tale http://www.scmp.com/hongkongsevens