We meet again – Hosts face Germany in World Series qualifier at Hong Kong Sevens
Paul John’s side will look to make amends for their defeat by the Germans last year as Fiji play New Zealand in a pool game
The holding of breaths and chanting of sevens minnows “Cook Islands, Cook Islands” from some Hong Kong players was not enough to steer Hong Kong’s luck at this year’s Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2018 group draw.
Audible sighs and grimaces emerged from a couple of Hong Kong stars after the host team’s group fate was sealed at this year’s Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2018 group draw.
Hong Kong will face Papua New Guinea, Germany and Zimbabwe in group F of the World Rugby Sevens Series Qualifier tournament starting on April 8.
Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2018 - World Rugby Sevens Series Qualifier
Papua New Guinea
— Hong Kong Sevens (@OfficialHK7s) March 12, 2018
“It was always going to be a tough draw,” said Hong Kong coach Paul John, who this time last year had jumped on a flight to the city, dropped his bags at the hotel and made his way to the draw.
“We know what to expect from Germany because we went there for a preseason training camp this year,” he said. “Very physical, and obviously we know what happened in the quarter finals with them last year.”
Hong Kong won two of their three games in the group stages of last year’s Sevens before ultimately losing to Germany 14-7 in the knockout stages.
The brawny Germans, along with “exciting” Papua New Guinea and Zimbabwe, will certainly give Hong Kong enough to think about as they jet off to Malaysia for the Borneo Sevens at the week’s end.
“The quality of the teams in the qualifiers is excellent and it is up to us to keep up with those standards so we can give ourselves a fighting chance,” said John.
“I can’t believe it’s been 12 months – the team has changed and we’re trying to keep the squad as big as we can ... we are also looking at a few players beneath the top [tier].
“Our target was to get qualification for this tournament and World Cup, which we did. We hope the boys do themselves justice.”
One year on and the new-look Hong Kong team are raring to make amends, according to captain Ben Rimene.
“We’ve won one and lost one against Germany, so we have to execute under the pressure and fatigue – that’s what it comes down to,” said the 33-year-old fly-half.
“It’s hard to replicate the intensity in training so tournaments like Borneo will give us some exposure.
“I’m the oldest in the squad now and we’ve had quite a big exodus of players – eight front-liners we’ve had over the last three or four years have left – but there’s a lot of guys and myself and [Jamie Hood] have shared responsibilities.”
The Hong Kong women’s team – also in the series qualifier tournament – will be pitted against Brazil, China and Kazakhstan in pool B. Winger Natasha Olson-Thorne is certain the familiarity of these teams will ensure a solid showing come April.
“We’re in a good position because we’ve played them all before,” said the 25-year-old. “It’s always good to know your opponents before the tournament ... we just have to play our style.”
While the first day of women’s qualifiers will be held at So Kon Po, there will be added incentive for Olson-Thorne and her teammates as the whole second day will be played inside Hong Kong Stadium.
“Our goal is to – minimum – make it to the quarter finals, and one of our goals is to play in the stadium. Hopefully we can get to the final, too.”
In the main draw, sevens fans will be salivating over pool A, which sees reigning champions Fiji in an early classic against New Zealand. Russia and Samoa round off the group.
As it stands, South Africa lead the World Series standings, with Fiji and New Zealand not far behind in second and third place, respectively.
Hong Kong Sevens
Pool A: Fiji, New Zealand, Russia, Samoa
Pool B: Kenya, Australia, Spain, Canada
Pool C: South Africa, England, Scotland, South Korea
Pool D: USA, Argentina, Wales, France
Pool E: Japan, Uganda, Chile, Georgia
Pool F: Papua New Guinea, Germany, Hong Kong, Zimbabwe
Pool G: Ireland, Uruguay, Jamaica, Cook Islands