‘Ordinary’ Hong Kong have to lift their game, insists Gareth Baber
Coach says team, playing as pros for the first time, have to improve despite winning start
Gareth Baber called on Jamie Hood and his men to "earn their money" after Hong Kong emerged unscathed from a patchy first-day performance in the 12-team qualifying competition at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens on Friday.
Fielding a team of full-time professionals for the first time in the competition's history, Hong Kong were off the pace against North African part-timers Tunisia, scrambling to a 19-7 victory.
They picked up their tempo in the second pool game against another strictly amateur side, American Samoa, running in seven tries in a 38-7 win.
While happy with the victories, Hong Kong head coach Baber believed the team had not performed to their full potential and had been struck down by a common malaise - starting a tournament slowly.
"We seem to grow into things. I have seen it happen in the past few weeks.
"We grew into Darwin and we grew into Zimbabwe [two warm-up tournaments], so I think we are growing into this one as well.
"Hopefully, we can put a performance together tomorrow, which will see us through," Baber said.
"Coming away with two wins means the task was done. But it was a slow start. We play Italy next and then it's into the knockout stages. It is now where everyone starts to earn their money."
The players who have given up their day jobs as lawyers and teachers to become paid professionals - 10 of the 12-strong squad are full-time athletes at the Hong Kong Sports Institute, which last April welcomed rugby sevens as an elite sport - will be under pressure to deliver.
Tunisia were feisty and even when down to six men for most of the second half with two players sin-binned, Hong Kong struggled. They were made to look ordinary in the contact situation turning over possession.
"Obviously, that is a worry. It is a huge part of the game and we can be sharper in this area," said Baber.
"We have to be smart with what we do."
A brace from Salom Yiu Kam-shing enabled Hong Kong to emerge with their pride intact against Tunisia, but his most crucial contribution was a try-saving tackle in the second half with Hong Kong holding a slender 14-7 lead.
Nine-time Hong Kong Sevens veteran Rowan Varty admitted it was a "lethargic" performance.
The rout of American Samoa, however, might have settled nerves, even if the opponents are one of the weaker teams.
The two victories will be enough to see Hong Kong qualify for the quarter-finals today, but their final pool game against Italy, also unbeaten, will decide whether the route into the final will be rocky.
Baber had a weather eye out on the teams expected to challenge Hong Kong for the core-team spot and was impressed, especially with Asian rivals Japan, who easily looked the most dangerous opponent in the qualifiers.
"They played very well and there is a lot of quality about them, but there is a lot of quality about us as well," Baber said.
"Right now, it is not Japan I'm worried about, I'm worried about my next game which is Italy."
Italy also had their hands full in defeating Tunisia 17-12 before knocking out American Samoa 31-12.
Japan did not concede a try in wins over Uruguay (24-0), and Trinidad and Tobago (41-0).
Zimbabwe and Russia also finished the first day unbeaten.