Hong Kong can break into ranks of sevens elite, says coach Gareth Baber
Home side handed best chance yet in draw for World Series Qualifier competition
Hong Kong have their best chance of winning HSBC Sevens World Series core-team status next month, having found a new mental edge to their game, said Gareth Baber, the new head rugby sevens coach at the Hong Kong Sports Institute.
Tuesday night's draw for the World Series qualifiers that form part of the March 28-30 Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens will see Jamie Hood and his men come up against Italy, Tunisia and American Samoa in the preliminary round of the 12-team competition, where the winners will earn promotion as a core team next season. The 15 core teams plus Sri Lanka will play in the main event.
Perhaps inspired by the venue of the draw, Baber told the large gathering at the Confucius Hall Secondary School (the first local school to include rugby in its curriculum): "No matter what pool we play in, what matters is that we have to beat every team to qualify for the World Series. And I believe we have got the group of players to do that."
Confucius couldn't have put it better himself.
Baber's words of wisdom are strengthened by the fact that since rugby sevens became an elite sport at the Hong Kong Sports Institute and many players became full-time athletes – among them Hood, Rowan Varty, McQueen brothers Tom and Alex, Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Ben Rimene and Lee Jones – they are becoming mentally tougher.
"We have come close to qualifying in the past and a lot of that is down to consistency and behaviour that comes with being a professional. Now that the players are working on their game in a professional manner every day, this behaviour becomes second nature to them and we have already seen the results in Darwin," Baber said, referring to the Hong Kong men's and women's squads winning their individual Cup tournaments at last month's Darwin Sevens.
"We were not playing against international teams in Darwin, like we will be in Hong Kong, but any win is positive.
"The players found themselves in a couple of tight spots and got through them. The lessons were learned and now they will be up against tougher opposition and tighter spots, and the hope is that what they learned in Darwin is in their heads and that they can close out those games.
"We have the best chance this time as none of these teams we face have played in the World Series. We have to realise things are in our favour but we must prepare the way we always prepare. Right now we are in a good mindset and a good place as a squad and we must stay this way until the end of March."
Meanwhile, Hong Kong's women found themselves drawn in a tough pool with defending champions Canada and Kazakhstan for the Hong Kong Women's Sevens.
Cathay Pacific/HSBC Sevens World Qualifier Tournament draw
Pool E: Russia, Zimbabwe, Chile, Barbados
Pool F: Hong Kong, Italy, Tunisia, American Samoa
Pool G: Japan, Cook Islands, Uruguay, Trinidad and Tobago
Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Women’s Sevens draw
Pool A: Canada, Kazakhstan, Hong Kong
Pool B: Brazil, South Africa, Papua New Guinea
Pool C: France, China, Kenya
Pool D: Ireland, Japan, Singapore.