Germans raring to go as they return to Hong Kong after 24 years
1900 Olympic rugby silver medallists not going to Rio but are simply happy to be back in the city
It’s a little known fact that the German rugby team boasts an Olympic silver medal. The year was 1900, the venue Paris, and they shared second place with Great Britain. Okay, so there were only three teams taking part on that occasion – with hosts France scooping gold after, incredibly, being the only one of the three allowed to play more than one match. But the fact remains that Germany was once considered an elite force in the game.
The team of 2016 won’t be appearing in Rio this summer. They’ve come down a rung or two since those heady days of the early 20th century. But they are at least here in Hong Kong this week for the first time since 1992 – and they’re looking to make an impact.
“We’ve worked really hard to get here, so to come and play this awesome tournament is a great feeling,” said their 32-year-old skipper Clemens von Grumbkow, who is one of the few in his team to have played professionally, turning out for sides in New Zealand, France and, most recently, Italy. “We’ve all seen it on TV so many times; we’re here to enjoy the experience, soak up the atmosphere and show what we can do.”
Germany are up against hosts Hong Kong, Zimbabwe and the Cayman Islands in pool E of the HSBC World Series Qualifiers, which start on Friday afternoon – and while their hopes of progressing past this first stage would be considered unlikely, their New Zealand-born coach is rather more optimistic.
“It’s huge to be here,” says Chad Shepherd, who replaced Rainer Kumm, Germany’s regular sevens coach, one of that 1992 alumni, who couldn’t make it to Hong Kong for personal reasons. “We started our programme three years ago and the target was to make it into the world series. To be here in Hong Kong, with the chance of qualifying for that, shows our hard work has paid off.
“Like every other team , we’re here to win it, to try and qualify for the world series. We’ll be taking things one game at a time; but our goal is to qualify.”
Since rugby sevens became an Olympic sport, the country has seen a significant uptick in the popularity of the game, which Shepherd said bodes well for the years ahead.
“The future is bright but we as a national team need to perform well,” said the former scrum half.