End of era forces HK into forward thinking
HONGKONG may have to look for an entirely new forward line for their next sevens foray.
Three of the forwards who played in the World Cup Sevens in Edinburgh are set to leave the team.
Simon Litster, who will be 38 this month and is the oldest player in the Murrayfield tournament, says he is retiring from the international scene.
David Bulbeck, a member of the 1990 Hongkong Sevens Plate-winning team, is also considering retirement.
And Steve Burton, a former Hongkong 15s captain, will return to Britain in two weeks.
The territory may have also seen the last of winger Ian Strange, who has had a distinguished eight-year association with Hongkong rugby at the highest level.
Litster said he will continue to play in Hongkong at club level.
''I don't think I will continue to play for Hongkong,'' he said. ''It's high time to call it a day, although I still hope to play club rugby for Valley.
''It's been great to play for Hongkong and the opportunities it has provided for me, but other players will now be given a chance to play for them.'' The 31-year-old Bulbeck, the territory's outstanding player of the World Cup, said he is still undecided.
He said: ''I don't want to commit myself yet, but the original plan was this season was to try getting into the team and play one more Hongkong Sevens and play in the World Cup.
''But there are a lot of commitments involved in playing international rugby.'' Former Army man Bulbeck originally left Hongkong after the 1990 Hongkong Sevens, but returned last season to work for a stockbroking firm.
Strange has been one of Hongkong's best sevens players. He has seen the territory's rise from one of the minnows to a side good enough to challenge the major countries.
One of his highlights was captaining the side to victory at the 1990 Plate event in Hongkong, although he was sidelined for the final with concussion.
Strange is also remembered for ''the try that never was'', in 1988, when he seemingly touched down for a winning try against Tonga that would have seen Hongkong enter the Plate final.
However, the touch judge ruled that the ball had crossed the dead ball line. Tonga gained possession and went on to score the winning try.
Strange is the first to admit he has not played his best rugby over the last month, which has seen an alarming fall in Hongkong's fortunes.
''It's highly unlikely that I will play again,'' said the 30-year-old policeman, who has played in seven Hongkong Sevens.
''It's not a question of making yourself available, it's just that I don't think I have played well enough to get into the team.'' The Hongkong squad also includes one other forward, Stuart Krohn, along with captain Craig Pain, Philippe Lacamp, Mark Thomas, Adam Adair and Ashley Billington.
Hongkong finished second bottom in Pool D of the preliminary rounds, losing to England, Western Samoa, Canada and Spain but beating Namibia.
The territory's squad went into the tournament with their confidence deflated following a poor Bowl semi-final performance at last month's Hongkong Sevens.
They played better at Murrayfield, although a lack of speed prevented them from making the most of their chances.
The last six months of preparation have seen many injury-related changes to the squad.
Stewart Brew, one of the fastest players in Hongkong, was forced to retire last year after suffering a knee injury during the World Cup qualifying tournament in Sicily.
Hooker Gary Cross was also unavailable through injury, which also prevented speedy players such as Mike Seigne, David O'Brien and Justin Weston from making the squad.