It’s the hope that kills us, so here’s why we say the home team has no chance at Hong Kong Sevens
After so many agonising near-misses, we can’t be hurt again, so let’s go into the tournament with an air of utter pessimism
“It’s the hope that kills you,” goes the cliche about the pain of supporting sports teams. Unless you’re on a perennial winner’s bandwagon, each new season brings fresh belief that “this could be our year” – despite ample evidence to the contrary.
Hong Kong rugby fans know it well. Since the World Series qualifying tournament was introduced in 2012, we’ve dared to dream that the city’s sevens side could win a place as one of the ‘core’ teams who travel the world playing every tournament on the main event.
The hope builds as the Hong Kong Sevens approaches, grows still further after impressive performances on the Friday and Saturday, and then is mercilessly crushed on the Sunday. It hurts, but the pain is forgotten about by the following spring as the cycle begins again.
In 2012, Japan stomped on our hopes in the quarter-finals. In 2014, Italy did us in the semis. Russia battered us in the quarters in 2015 and then last year was the most agonising yet, with an umpteenth painful loss to perennial nemesis Japan in the final.
Even in the 10 minutes of that 24-10 defeat, Hong Kong gave us brief hope of a stunning win before crumbling. Japan had already beaten us in the final of the Asian qualifying tournament for the Olympics after HK took an early lead.
This year let’s not get hurt again. Let’s go into the qualifying tournament with utter, desolate pessimism, and whatever happens can’t be too painful.
With that philosophy in mind, here’s why we shouldn’t have any hope for Hong Kong in 2017.
First the draw. Hong Kong have Chile, Sri Lanka and Namibia in their group, all a challenge.
The Chileans have played two rounds on the main series this year, in Las Vegas and Vancouver, testing themselves against the world’s best and not looking out of place in the 10 games they played.
They beat Russia in Vancouver and four of their nine defeats were narrow, to Samoa, Wales and Kenya twice – in Vegas the Africans only won by two points.
They’re going to be extremely tough. No chance.
“But wait,” says Hope, “we routinely beat Sri Lanka in Asian competition and Namibia are surely no great shakes. We should get through the group fine.”
Okay, well let’s look at potential opponents in the knockout stages. Germany have been impressive in European competition and beat us last year. They say they’re here to win.
Spain have competed as one of the core teams on the World Sevens Series before and qualified for the Olympics last summer.
Uganda, like Chile, played two rounds on the World Series this year – and beat Japan, who always beat us, twice. They’re African champions, having beaten Kenya and Zimbabwe. Papua New Guinea too have played on the main series this season.
Tonga are always tough. Uruguay will be bruisers. A quarter-final at best, that’s all we can expect. No chance.
Gareth Baber, the former Hong Kong coach now at Fiji, knows well the pain of hope. “It was my dream to take Hong Kong to the World Series,” he says.
He’s now getting a different but equally bitter taste in his mouth in charge of the Olympic champions – their fans don’t just hope to win, they expect to, but their team is without a tournament victory this season.
“I can tell you the level of competition is high,” he said of his former team’s chances. “The likes of Uganda have had two World Series tournaments, Papua New Guinea too in Australia and New Zealand and I’ve just seen Chile in Vancouver and Vegas – that’s a massive bonus for those teams.
“The development I saw in Chile in just two weekends was enormous. That’s going to be the challenge for Paul [John] and Jevon [Groves, Hong Kong coaches], to get the team up at those levels which is World Series level.”
See? No chance.
Ah but wait ... here comes Hope again.
“We beat Germany last year. We beat Spain in group stage of the Olympic qualifier repechage. In fact in a one-off game, we can surely beat any of the other 11 teams in the competition.
“And then there’s the ultimate reason to be cheerful ... Japan aren’t in it.”
You know what? This could be our year.