History no burden as Hong Kong show hard edge to book safe passage to quarter-finals of World Series qualifier
The hosts brush aside Namibia and Sri Lanka with confidence as old heads Rowan Varty and Ben Rimene shine
Rarely has a Friday night at the Hong Kong Sevens been so serene for the local crowd.
No hearts in mouths, no disappointment, just two clinical wins in two outings to ensure a confident Hong Kong side passage to the quarter-finals of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series qualifying competition.
After taking care of Namibia 22-7, the hosts emphatically despatched Sri Lanka 31-5 to give the impression that perhaps Hong Kong already has a harder edge under new coach Paul John.
“The boys are desperate to do well. There is a lot of experience in the squad and the boys have experienced quite a bit of disappointment over the years,” John said.
“It’s important for them to be able to play and express themselves and I think they did that today. The best thing was that every player made a contribution.”
It was the first time in three years that Hong Kong emerged unbeaten on opening day. History seemed to matter little, with John praising his team’s ability to play without burden.
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But if one thing is clear, it’s that John won’t be allowing any complacency to creep in, despite the solid start, sharpening his focus on Hong Kong’s crunch encounter with Chile.
“That is the first objective achieved in that we have got through to a quarter-final. Now we want to get the best possible draw and it’s a big game against Chile first thing tomorrow morning for us,” John said.
“You do well against Chile, you get a better draw in the quarter-finals if you win your group.
“You want to qualify as the highest-placed seed as you possibly can and that means the game tomorrow against Chile is vitally important.
“There is also a lot to work on from our point of view. We are disappointed we let a couple of tries in.”
Chile always loomed as Hong Kong’s biggest challenge in pool F and the South Americans looked likely as the invited side at the most recent World Series legs in Las Vegas and Vancouver.
It was old heads Rowan Varty and Ben Rimene that sparked the home side on day one, with Varty looking as spritely as ever as he ran in two tries against Namibia and one against Sri Lanka.
Captain Max Woodward was also important, leading from the front like a man who knew full well that only two wins would do, but it was Varty who had the crowd on their feet.
“I think he can still play for years, he hasn’t lost his speed,” Hong Kong young gun Michael Coverdale said of the 31-year-old.
“I grew up coming to the Sevens with my parents and Varty has always been there and I’m finally playing with him.”
The 22-year-old is coming into his own as he makes his mark in the Hong Kong side, with his hard work rewarded when he crossed against Namibia.
“I’m feeling really confident, Johnsy just tells me to do what I’m good at and I’m enjoying it,” he said.
“I think the boys were really confident going into this because we played well in Borneo and we trained really well against Fiji and Wales. Obviously, against Fiji it was live contact and we actually made it competitive.”
Woodward and Rimene both scored twice against Sri Lanka, while Lee Jones dotted down against Namibia.
Other teams to secure passage to the knockout stage were Chile, Spain and Papua New Guinea.