Sevens squads step out on long road to Rio
The start of a new rugby season in Hong Kong also means the start of another ARFU Asian Sevens Series.
With the first leg of this year’s three-tournament circuit being held in Hong Kong – and with the added objective of preparing for the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea at the end of September – this year’s series is hugely important for both our men’s and women’s teams.
With this in mind, the men have been training hard in Hong Kong and also away from home in a training camp with the Canada Sevens team in British Columbia last month.
We were able to get a lot of vital work done as a team in the training camp and also to test ourselves against one of the top teams in the IRB Sevens World Series in Canada.
This experience will prove invaluable when we start our Asian campaign in Hong Kong. Since returning from North America it has been awesome to see all the hard work paying off, particularly for some of the less experienced players.
The likes of Jack Capon and Mike Coverdale performed really well in the games against Canada and they have picked up right where they left off after returning to the Hong Kong Sports Institute.
I’m excited to see how they might perform when they get their opportunity. Whether that comes in the Asian Sevens Series or the Asian Games – I am sure that opportunity will come quickly.
In the middle of our preparations for the RS Hong Kong Asian Sevens at Hong Kong Football Club next weekend (August 23-24) was the Uruguay trip for the Rugby World Cup repêchage match.
It was a great achievement for Hong Kong’s national fifteens programme to reach the advanced stages of RWC qualifying. For the first time in HKRFU history we were among the last four teams in the world seeking to qualify for next year’s tournament in England.
Despite the tough loss, it was a great experience for the team having to travel such a long way and endeavour to perform against an experienced and strong team like Uruguay under difficult conditions.
Although many of the sevens boys got significant game time in Uruguay, the focus on different skills demanded for the different approaches required for sevens and fifteens, has perhaps impeded some of our preparation for the sevens campaign, but we have been working hard to make up for lost time since returning from South America.
It is of vital importance that the players involved now refocus and set our sights on our next targets – winning back the Asian Sevens crown and reaching the gold medal match at the Asian Games.
As usual our main competition will be defending Asian champions, Japan. But Malaysia and Sri Lanka are coming off world-class international sevens competition recently at the Commonwealth Games.
I’m sure they will both be eager to show how competitive they are. Sri Lanka in particular has made a big leap in sevens over the past seasons, leapfrogging Asian powerhouses like China and South Korea to jump from 6th to 3rd in last year’s standings.
The competitiveness of the game is growing by leaps and bounds in Asia and there are no more easy matches on the series. This parity will only grow as we close in on the final stages of Olympic qualification in 2015, so we cannot afford to focus purely on Japan but will have to build up match by match over the three tournaments and the Asiad.
It is therefore hugely important that we make full use of our home-pitch advantage to start the series with a bang and to kick off the Asian Games campaign with a statement win playing our style of rugby.
We are hoping to have some very strong home crowd support as it can really make the difference in close-run matches. And with us and Japan reaching every final last season – with a differential of just four points across those four games – it could well come down to another tense cup match with Japan next weekend.
As this year’s series also represents moving another step closer towards the Olympic qualifying year in 2015, it gives us an opportunity to illustrate what we can do in Asia.
It is also a great chance to send a strong message to all of our competition about Hong Kong’s commitment to achieving a long-term personal and team goal – qualifying for Rugby Sevens at the 2016 Rio Olympics.