X-factor for China: Sevens great Ben Gollings plots Olympic qualification for women’s team
England’s world record points-scorer is looking for glory as coach of mainland women’s team at Olympic qualifiers in Hong Kong
Ben Gollings has seen and done it all when it comes to sevens and China will be hoping to lean on the English great's expertise at the Asia Rugby Sevens Qualifier this weekend.
Gollings is in town as head coach of the Chinese women's squad and the man who still holds the record as the World Rugby Sevens Series all-time leading points scorer (2,652) has been looking to add to his charges the same sort of flair and finesse that cemented his own legend in the game across 11 seasons and 70 caps for England.
The now 35-year-old knows all about fronting the big occasion at the Hong Kong Stadium, helping England to three of their four titles here. The sight of him storming across the line remains fresh in the memory of those who support England, and even for a few of those who don't."There's no better place to play than Hong Kong. Great stadium, great field, great crowd - it's all here," said Gollings after an early morning session with his squad at King's Park.
The Englishman has been looking to build on China's impressive efforts in the Asian sevens series this season - they finished tied for points with Japan and Hong Kong at its end, but were relegated to second behind Japan on points difference. Finals appearances in Qingdao and Colombo showed China are a force to be reckoned with on their day.
"We made two finals, but didn't win, so everything has been about building towards this weekend. The team's in good place at the moment," said Gollings, whose team start their campaign tomorrow against Guam.
Gollings has been with the Chinese squad for three months after coaching the men in Sri Lanka and with the United States junior set-up. He moved straight into coaching via a partnership in the US with Fijian superstar Waisale Serevi after calling time on his playing career in 2011.
The women's Olympic qualifying takes place over two legs, with a second tournament set for Tokyo at the end of the month and Gollings believes the format gives every nation a chance. China are joined this weekend by Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka and Guam.
"In terms of the game, you just can't afford to lose, number one, but you have to be tactically aware of every situation you are in because every point will count," he said.
"The two legs has added something else. It gives everyone an opportunity. But any rugby for these girls is good rugby. You have got to be playing - that's the best training field. They are learning a lot."I've been adding bit by bit over the three months and the girls have been listening and taking it all in, so now we just have to get out there and go."
One man who needs no refresher course on Gollings' credentials is China men's coach He Zhongliang, who faced the Englishman at the Hong Kong Sevens back in 2009.
"I played against England and I have a picture of me and him in action," said He. "It is a good memory. He was a very intelligent player.
"We have discussed tactics, and I think that will be helpful to our efforts this weekend."
China started the Asian series with an upset win over Hong Kong (21-17) in Qingdao, following it up with a 22-12 result against Sri Lanka and a place in the final, where they lost to Japan 28-12. Their form dipped later, however, and He put it down to a lack of experience in his squad.
"Some of our players are still green and some veterans missed those series because of injuries," said He. "However, I have confidence in this young team."
China have been drawn in pool A alongside Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan this weekend. Pool B sees Hong Kong joined by Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Philippines and Iran.
The crunch game will be second-up against the Koreans tomorrow at Hong Kong Stadium, He said. "We have to win that game," he said. "If we conquer them, we are in the top four and the knockout stages the next day - and that is our aim."