Hong Kong wary of Philippines in rugby sevens
Skipper Varty warns of danger in Singapore Sevens, which is Asia's World Cup qualifier
Captain Rowan Varty has warned his high-flying teammates to be on guard after Hong Kong, the new Asian champions, were drawn in the preliminary round with the Philippines, who could field a side of their Japan-based professionals at next week's Singapore Sevens.
The final leg of this season's HSBC Asian Sevens Series is doubling as the Asian qualifiers for the World Cup Sevens in Moscow next June, so all teams will be at full strength as they vie for just three berths. It is believed the Philippines will use all of their overseas-based players for this important tournament.
"We expect them to be a danger. They fielded a few of their overseas-based players in the last event in Mumbai and pushed Japan all the way," Varty said.
"I expect more of their big guns to be back and they will be very strong.
"In fact, I would think they will be one of the teams fighting for the three qualifying spots given to Asia and we cannot underestimate them."
Hong Kong's other pool A opponents will be lowly Guam, seeded 12th in the 12-team competition.
"The Philippines have 11 guys playing in Japan and their coach told me [in Mumbai] that he expects them all to be back for Singapore," Hong Kong coach Dai Rees said.
"We know what they can do. Last year the Philippines qualified for the Hong Kong Sevens and they are more than a capable side. But we have to do what we have been doing, and that is just play consistently.
"Our strength has always been playing as a team. We will be aware of the danger the Philippines pose, but it is also difficult bringing a team together a few days before a crucial tournament and expecting them to perform."
Hong Kong's climb to the top spot in Asia for the first time gives them top-dog status. Japan are seeded second and are at the other end of the draw with Sri Lanka and Indonesia in pool D. The other two pools comprise South Korea, Thailand and Singapore (pool B), with China, Malaysia and Kazakhstan in pool C.
"On seedings, we should either meet Malaysia or China in the quarter-finals and then Korea in the semis. Our plan is to make it all the way to the final and thus ensure our place at the World Cup. We don't need the pressures of playing in the third-place play-off for the last qualifying ticket," Rees said.
Varty added: "The aim is to be playing in three world-class events next year. We have already assured our places in two - the Hong Kong Sevens and the London Sevens - and now we want to make it to Moscow and play in what could be the last World Cup Sevens."
With sevens a medal sport in the Olympics, the International Rugby Board has said the Moscow tournament could be the sixth and last World Cup. Hong Kong have played in all five previous tournaments - qualifying for three and earning an automatic berth in 1997 and 2005 when the event was staged here.