Make us proud, Brian Stevenson tells Hong Kong squads
HKRFU president calls on city’s pro players to live up to expectations
Top official Brian Stevenson has challenged Hong Kong's first full-time professional sevens squad to rise to the occasion as the game marked a watershed moment on Saturday.
For the first time, a professional team will represent Hong Kong at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens with high expectations of becoming a core team on the IRB Sevens World Series next season. But Stevenson, president of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, wants more, and intimated that nothing less than a gold medal at September's Asian Games and Olympic qualification was expected from these pros.
"This is the first time we will be fielding a side from a professional background and that's going to make a huge difference. While the immediate goal is to win core team status on the World Series, we also face a tremendous challenge at the Asian Games where we can do better. And Hong Kong must also get to the Olympics," Stevenson said at Saturday's announcement of the men's and women's squads for next weekend's showpieces.
Hong Kong won the silver medal at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou and its seems while victory at the 12-team qualifying tournament at the Hong Kong Sevens would be welcomed, the bigger target is a gold medal in Incheon, South Korea.
With the best resources money can buy behind them, Hong Kong's first full-time professional squad led by Jamie Hood will face the full brunt of expectations. Twice before Hong Kong have attempted to become a core team and failed. This time there is a big difference simply due to the players having opted to give up their day jobs as lawyers, teachers and gym instructors etc, to go full-time and chase the dream of playing all nine legs in the World Series.
It will be a defining moment for the home team when they run out on Friday at the Hong Kong Sevens. Similar to the world's best sides like New Zealand, South Africa, England and others, they too are now fully seasoned professionals, paid to play rugby and who eat, live and breathe the game seven days a week at the Hong Kong Sports Institute - only two are part-time: fireman Kwok Ka-chun and policeman Tsang Hing-hung.
While this sea change has raised expectations, head rugby sevens coach at the elite academy Gareth Baber cautioned that the 54-strong (men and women) programme was still in its infancy and that is was a work in progress.
"This certainly gives you a better chance having an edge but it doesn't necessarily follow that just because you are running a full-time programme that things fall into place. You have to make it happen," Baber said. "It is short term in relation to how long the players are regarded as full-time athletes. The expectation is huge when you realise that players are doing this full-time but a programme like this takes time to develop.
"We are not necessarily looking to the Hong Kong Sevens for performance but also looking to the Asian Games and then qualifying for the Olympics" added Baber who has been in charge for less than four month.
Hood will captain the side for the first time at the Hong Kong Sevens and there were no surprises in the 12-strong squad with Lee Jones being passed fit from an ankle injury. He will be joined in the forwards by young debutants Max Woodward and Raef Morrison.
Former skipper and Japan-based Mark Wright failed to win a place underlining the importance of being part of the professional set-up. Hong Kong are grouped with Italy, Tunisia and American Samoa.