Hong Kong Sevens

X-factor can give Italy core-team status, says coach Andy Vilk

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 March, 2014, 9:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 March, 2014, 11:33am

Italy has enough players with the X-factor to create waves in the 12-team qualifying tournament this weekend, said former England sevens star and coach Andy Vilk.

He is confident his team can go all the way and win the solitary core team spot available for the IRB Sevens World Series next season.

Vilk, a member of the last England team to win at the Hong Kong Sevens - in 2006 - was last June offered the challenge by the Italian Rugby Union to get the country into the World Series as they look ahead to the 2016 Olympics. Despite his short stint, the Englishman is confident his new team have the skill and style to emerge triumphant on Sunday.

The guys are passionate and if we can control that passion and make sure it doesn't work against us, we can do well
Italy coach Andy Vilk

"That is our aim, to win that core team spot," Vilk said. "We are a little bit of an unknown quantity and I suppose that is one of our strengths. The guys are passionate and if we can control that passion and make sure it doesn't work against us, we can do well.

"We have got the guys who play a little bit in the French style, players who have the X-factor, and I want these guys to pull that out in games as that is what will make the difference in the end."

Hong Kong are drawn with Italy in the preliminary pool - Tunisia and American Samoa are the other two teams - and consider the Europeans as a danger with Dai Rees, Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's head of technical development and performance, already marking them down as the dark horse.

"We don't know much about them," said a wary Rees.

If Hong Kong win the pool, they should on paper have an easier path into the finals of the qualifying tournament.

Italy will field a squad all of whom play 15s in the Italian Championship. Two of them have turned out in the Six Nations, Kaine Robertson and Giulio Rubini.

Italy's last appearance at the Hong Kong Sevens was in 2010. They have only recently committed themselves to a sevens programme that has been patchy to say the least in the past with their biggest triumph coming at the 2005 World Cup in Hong Kong when they won the Bowl.

"It's only recently that the union decided to look at sevens. We are starting from zero and are about four or five years behind other European countries like Portugal and Spain," Vilk said. "We qualified for Hong Kong by finishing second in Europe behind Russia. Coming to Hong Kong is an opportunity to see where we are and to measure ourselves against other teams wanting to qualify.

"Our first target is to make it to the quarter-finals, and then we just have to see who we catch."