Olympic qualifying
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Asia Rugby Olympic Sevens Qualifier

The road to Rio: Can Hong Kong’s men finally beat sevens nemesis Japan and qualify for the Olympics?

Coach Gareth Baber keeps his team focused on sticking to their game plan for Asia qualifier at Hong Kong Stadium

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 November, 2015, 11:10pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 November, 2015, 6:18pm

Gareth Baber sees his major task in the days leading up to the Asia Rugby Sevens Qualifier for the Olympics as keeping a lid on expectations but Hong Kong's head coach can rest assured there is always a cold truth to be found in hard facts.

The draw might have been kind - pool B offering up Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Philippines and Iran - but Baber knows full well the shadow of Japan hangs over the tournament, given their dominance through this year's Asia Rugby Sevens Series.

It’s no secret this group has been on the cusp a few times but hasn’t quite got there
Hong Kong sevens coach Gareth Baber

The Brave Blossoms finished with a perfect three-from-three, winning in Qingdao (28-12 over China), Bangkok (45-7 over South Korea) and Colombo (29-22 over Hong Kong).

And the obvious thinking is the road to Rio leads straight to them - or through them, as the case may be.

Japan's record against Hong Kong across the series was similarly impressive, with that victory in Sri Lanka following a Cup semi-final win in Bangkok (24-19). China knocked Baber's team out at the Cup quarter-final stages in Qingdao (21-17) before they regrouped to win the Plate (27-0 over Kazakhstan).

History also tells Hong Kong not to look too far ahead, and Baber is there to remind his players lest they forget.

"It's no secret this group has been on the cusp a few times but hasn't quite got there," said Baber, no doubt with the disappointments of Asian Games and Hong Kong Sevens past echoing in his ears alongside this year's close losses to Japan.

"My biggest job is to keep a sense of normality around the players and ensure they are sticking to the jobs outlined way back when we looked at what needs to be done to get to the Olympics," said Baber.

"I think we've done that pretty well. We've got experience to show us when we've done it poorly or well, and we try to learn from those experiences. I've got a good bunch of senior players here who have been hurt at times and who have done well at times.

"They know what's needed, who they are going to be playing against. My job is to keep the whole thing bubbling along with a sense of normality and focus on the goals of this tournament.

"The benefit of being in Hong Kong is the routine can stay," Baber said.

WATCH: Coaches and players share their thoughts ahead of the Asian Olympic qualifier

Japan line up against South Korea, China, Singapore and Taiwan in pool A and arrived yesterday fresh from telling domestic media they had taken inspiration from the World Cup heroics of the nation's 15s squad, who famously beat South Africa 34-32 in the group stages.

What this group [Hong Kong] wants to do is to show everybody that when they look after their own game, they are a very good group
Gareth Baber

"I think like it's our turn now," squad member Kazuhiro Goya told the Japan Times.

But Baber is aware that - for the time being at least - Japan are merely a distraction. First up on Saturday at Hong Kong Stadium are opponents looking to upset the odds.

"To them it is easy - come to Hong Kong, upset Hong Kong," says Baber, of his pool B opponents.

"We realise it's a tough job of work we've got this weekend. There are some good teams - Korea, Japan, China, Sri Lanka. They've all caused us issues over the past two years. I'm sure they are planning exactly the same upsets in Hong Kong.

"What this group wants to do is to show everybody that when they look after their own game, they are a very good group."

It was only 12 months ago that Hong Kong ruled Asian sevens, victory coming through a stunning 28-7 victory over Japan in the final of the Mumbai Sevens.