HK pull out of Fiji international sevens

The growing demand on the time of players has forced the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union to pull the national squad out of a groundbreaking trip to the heartland of rugby sevens - Fiji - this week.

The East Asian Games silver medallists were due to take part in the Suva International Sevens, but withdrew after organisers could not meet Hong Kong's request for a curtailed itinerary - nine days down to five - so as to lessen the pressure on the players, who were taking time off work.

'The organisers wanted us to come for nine days whereas our guys could only stay away for five. This logistical problem forced us to opt out of the trip,' Hong Kong head coach Dai Rees said.

'Unlike all the other teams turning up in Suva, we are an amateur team. To ask our players to take time off work for so long is not tenable and will put future competitions in jeopardy.'

Hong Kong were all set to step into the hotbed of rugby sevens after they accepted an unprecedented invitation from the organisers of the ultra-competitive Suva Sevens, which is played over 10 days and features more than 200 clubs - ending in a 16-team international tournament that had included Hong Kong.

Rees had been looking forward to testing Hong Kong's amateurs against world-class opposition, which included virtual national squads from Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, the United States, Canada and Australia, as well as some top Fijian clubs sides.

However, logistical issues like flight times and the number of days away forced the union to inform the organisers that they would not be able to meet their commitments.

'With the increased demands on the time of players these days, we unfortunately had to pull out of the tournament,' HKRFU chairman Trevor Gregory said.

'I believe some players couldn't get more time off work especially after last month's trip to Europe,' said sevens star Keith Robertson, who is one of the few players who does not have a full-time job. But the majority of the squad are employed and have to depend on the benevolence of their employers.

'I know a number of players who take their holidays to go and play rugby. Others get time off, but if there are any problems, like flight delays, which we faced when coming back from Europe last month, it can cause huge issues,' Robertson said.

The Hong Kong 15s squad, which included a number of players from the sevens set-up, went on a three-game 10-day tour of Germany, Holland and the Czech Republic before Christmas. With the Suva Sevens following hot on its heels, many had been unable to get time off work again.

'We struggle because of our limited player base,' Gregory said. 'Also the international demands on our players keep growing and it isn't going to get any easier this year.'

Hong Kong face a busy international schedule in April and May when the 2011 World Cup Asian qualifiers take place. Hong Kong will have to travel to Bahrain (to play the Arabian Gulf) and Japan. They will also play two games at home against Kazakhstan and South Korea.

Jeff Wong, Hong Kong's East Asian Games captain, said: 'The demands on your time just keep building up and it is difficult for our employers, too. Last year we had the Asian Five Nations, the Asian sevens tournaments and then the trip to Europe.

'I didn't go to Europe because I was injured, but generally you are looking at going away at least twice a year at a minimum. It is tough getting time off, but this has always been part of Hong Kong rugby.'