Olympic qualifying
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Asia Rugby Olympic Sevens Qualifier

Home advantage must count: Hong Kong sevens men keep eyes on the prize for Olympic qualifier

Japan loom large as Gareth Baber’s men hope to soak up familiar atmosphere and claim the one and only place from this event for Rio

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 November, 2015, 11:36pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 November, 2015, 9:40pm

Hong Kong have been keeping a low profile this week but there's no escaping the size of the task - or indeed the prize - that lies ahead at the Asia Rugby Olympic Sevens Qualifier.

Win, and they're off to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro next year as sevens makes its debut and rugby makes what organisers are sure will be a triumphant return to the fold after an absence of a century.

You don't need to tell the squad what that experience promises, given Hong Kong players have been schooled on sevens culture and the heady atmosphere that surrounds our own annual event - the inspiration, the story goes, behind the International Olympic Committee's decision to use the sport to kick things off in Rio.

Any team that plays at home would be fools if they didn’t try to capitalise on home support. These boys live and breathe Hong Kong rugby and Hong Kong rugby does a great job for them as well
Gareth Baber, Hong Kong men’s sevens head coach

"Any team that plays at home would be fools if they didn't try to capitalise on home support," said Kong Kong coach Gareth Baber.

"We've heard about good ticket sales and that's great. These boys live and breathe Hong Kong rugby and Hong Kong rugby does a great job for them as well.

"They know they've got a responsibility. The trick is to make that responsibility not too great so they can go out and play with a bit of freedom."

The good news for the squad this week has been that Keith Robertson and Jamie Hood have been cleared to play after obtaining SAR passports, adding a wealth of experience at the back, while flying winger Tom McQueen's recovery from his ankle woes seems timed to perfection. He has not played for three months but says he is raring to go.


READ ALL OUR COVERAGE OF THE OLYMPIC SEVENS QUALIFIERS HERE...


The draw for the weekend has been kind, but history hasn't.

Hong Kong face Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Philippines and Iran in pool B, while pool A features Japan, South Korea, China, Singapore and Taiwan.

Sri Lanka's pace will always pose a threat - a win over South Korea on their way to third place in Colombo showed that - but on paper at least the way looks open for a semi-final tomorrow against South Korea.

Then, of course, there is Japan. As it always seems to be.

Tomohiro Segawa's squad have come to town with World Cup fever still buzzing in their ears - the presence of Yoshikazu Fujita, who played in the UK has assured that - and fresh enough from the unbeaten run that took them to this year Asia Rugby Sevens Series title.

Schedule for Saturday, 7 November:

All year we have planned to have the strongest squad possible heading into the Olympic qualifiers and that’s what we think we have brought to Hong Kong
Katsuyuki Sakai, Japan player

They were also able to test themselves against the world's bestin the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.

Katsuyuki Sakai and the hulking Lote Tuqiri have looked impressive during training and they have a trump card to play in flying winger Kazuhiro Goya, leading points scorer at this year's Asia series.

"All year we have planned to have the strongest squad possible heading into the Olympic qualifiers and that's what we think we have brought to Hong Kong," said Sakai.

"I feel we are stronger than we were both at the Hong Kong Sevens and even in the Asian Sevens Series, where we won all three events.

"That gave us a lot of confidence so we have been looking forward to this for a long time."The 15s side played well at the World Cup and the expectations for us back home now are high. But this is a good thing. We have a big future ahead for rugby in Japan with the 2019 World Cup and the 2020 Olympics. We want to be there in Rio to get everything started."

For the home side the importance this week has been to limit the distractions - and focus on the job at hand.

"What we've been talking about is doing the job and understanding the emotions of playing for their city, but also going out and doing what they do best, which is play rugby," Baber said.