In partnership with the HKRFU
No rivalry between 15s and Sevens, says skipper McColl
Despite missing 12 star players from the short version of the game, HK skipper is adamant his team will deliver goods in Asian Five Nations
Hong Kong captain Tom McColl brushes aside suggestions that any "us versus them" scenario exists between his 15s team and the missing sevens stars.
None of the 12 players in the sevens squad is available for the Asian Five Nations, which kicks off today, as they focus on their campaign to become an IRB Sevens World Series core team at next month's London Sevens. Hong Kong face United Arab Emirates at Hong Kong Football Club today - it was the sevens players who made up the backline and starred as HK crushed UAE in this same competition last year. They ran in 10 of 14 tries in an 85-10 victory with sevens skipper Rowan Varty leading the way with four.
"This is not us against them," says McColl. "The sevens boys have proudly raised Hong Kong's profile now it is time for us, the 15s, to show what we are capable of us and what we are worth - but there is no rivalry between us. What we have is an opportunity to prove the depth of rugby in Hong Kong."
Full-back McColl, who pilots an Airbus 330 for a living, will take the controls of a backline which, although missing the sevens players, is not short of experience. All of them figured in last December's Cup of Nations in Dubai, which was used to blood a new set of three-quarters who performed commendably as Hong Kong finished runners-up.
The halves combination will feature Kirk Munro and Chris McAdam with Stuart Megaw and Ally Maclay in midfield. The back three are wings Sebastian Alfonsi and Jonny Rees with McColl bringing up the rear.
"There is a lot of experience among us. We are not worried about the guys who are not there, but just focusing on our own game. Yes, we scored a massive 85 points in the A5N last time, but there is no added pressure to emulate that. There is a lot of excitement within the squad and everyone is looking forward to the game," McColl said.
There is only one new face in the starting forward line-up, Kowloon prop Leon Wei, with Hong Kong enjoying the luxury of having regulars like Tom Bolland on the bench. Wei will be up the front with Alex Harris and Steve Nolan, while Dan Watson and Charles French will pack down in the second row. The back-row comprises No8 Pale Tauti, blindside Matt Stockdale and openside Matt Lamming.
A win in the opener is a must to take the pressure off Hong Kong, with their twin objectives of staying in the Top Five for next season's 15s World Cup qualifiers, as well as allowing the sevens squad to concentrate on London. But McColl is more ambitious.
"We want to get back to being the number two side in Asia, a position we were in a couple of seasons ago and we have set ourselves this goal. This is important, especially as a confidence booster for next year. We need to know that we can compete against Japan," McColl added.
Japan open their campaign against the Philippines today. Having completely dominated the competition, they plan to groom players for the next World Cup and the 2019 edition on home soil.
"We need to further develop our squad, so I anticipate at least a 20 per cent change in personnel from last season," said Japan coach Eddie Jones. "A couple of our senior players are also playing in Super Rugby this season, which will give the youngsters a wonderful chance to step up."
"We know Hong Kong will be well coached and we know the Philippines will also be hard to beat. But our target is to win the championship by playing the Japan way - good, attacking rugby."