Hong Kong’s future stars aim high in opening round of Asia Rugby U20 Sevens Series
Men kick-off two-part series in Malaysia as favourites; women primed to build on last year’s second-place finish
Hong Kong’s men’s and women’s sides will enter this weekend’s first leg of the 2016 Asia Rugby U20 Sevens Series in Johor Bahru, Malaysia confident of doing some damage.
The men will enter as favourites after back-to-back series wins, but this year’s side will introduce a number of new faces.
“We have a lot of players who have aged out of the competition over the past two seasons and some of those who are still eligible are unavailable, so there are quite a few players new to sevens in the squad,” said coach Fan Shun-kei.
Daniel Archer and Cameron Smith are the sole returning members from last year’s winning side, while Fan has selected five members of the team who participated in the 15-a-side World Rugby U20 Trophy (U20T) earlier this year.
These include Pierce Mackinlay-West, Jonathan Healy, Ben Tang Cheuk-hang, Ron Siew and fly-half Hugo Stiles, who will captain the sevens side.
“It’s great to have Hugo back with all his sevens experience. He has played with the senior squad at the Tokyo Sevens before and he brings a really good understanding of the sevens game. His leadership abilities and familiarity with the 15-a-side players are also going to be really helpful,” Fan said.
The side also features experienced age-grade representatives Kevin Field, Dominic Lam and Mak Kwai-chung.
The question for Fan will be whether the players can carry their experience into the big matches this weekend in Malaysia.
“Hopefully the guys from the [U20T] can bring the intensity levels needed in those international campaigns and that big-match experience into the squad,” he said.
"The competition is really growing and we are definitely in a tough pool with the hosts and South Korea – who are very strong at this level.”
Hong Kong are the top seeds in pool A alongside Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea, while Japan top pool B with Sri Lanka, Thailand, UAE and the Philippines.
Hong Kong’s women enter the series fitter, faster and stronger than ever after finishing as runners-up to Japan last season.
Coach Sam Feausi is confident her team are better prepared than in 2015 having been in training since June and with a full complement of local and overseas-based players to draw on.
Hong Kong's women will take part in a four-team event in Malaysia alongside Thailand, Singapore and the hosts.
“We’re entering the series with a much stronger team than last year,” said Feausi.
“There are a couple of girls returning from last year who have really been performing well since then and we have also been boosted by the availability of four of our overseas girls.”
Six players return from last year’s squad, including senior Hong Kong squad member Lee Tsing-tsz, who has been named captain.
Vice-captain Agnes Chan Tsz-ching and Cathy Chan Tsz-ying are also set to play key roles after being invited to train with the senior squad at the Hong Kong Sports Institute after impressing last year, while Stella Tam Yu-ching, Wong Suet-ying and Rosanna Wright will add additional experience.
Malaysia is the first of two legs in the series for the junior men and women, with Hong Kong hosting the finale on 12-13 August.