Asian Games: Hong Kong targeting rugby sevens gold says newly nationalised Ben Rimene
Paul John’s men begin their sevens campaign on Thursday afternoon against Pakistan
Hong Kong are confident of making it third time lucky at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia this weekend when they bid for an elusive rugby sevens gold.
Paul John’s side have claimed silver at the last two editions of the Games, falling to Japan on both occasions, but newly nationalised Hongkonger Ben Rimene, who took up Hong Kong citizenship aged 33 to help the team go for gold in Jakarta, said he and his teammates are targeting the top of the podium on Saturday.
“Our aim is to come away with the gold medal – we have to aim for that,” Rimene said. “We can’t be safe. We want to put it all out there. We’ve just get to get on with what we need to do to get that gold.”
Speaking after a brief run out on Wednesday morning at the GBK Rugby field in Jakarta, Rimene said conditions are tough but not too different from those the team encounters regularly in Hong Kong.
“It’s going to be hot but that’s nothing we’re not used to from Hong Kong weather,” Rimene said. “We had a light training session this morning after a bit of a blow out yesterday.”
Rugby sevens, which was widely considered to be the hit event after its first Olympics run at Rio 2016, has been a full Asian Games event since the 1998 edition in Bangkok, but Hong Kong have not yet won gold.
This time around, they go up against China on day one of the tournament on Thursday and Rimene said they can’t take their neighbours for granted.
“We have Pakistan first and then we’ve got China – they’re always a good side,” Rimene said. “They’ve put a lot of focus on rugby since it became an Olympic sport so they’ll be a dangerous side.”
Rimene was one of four players to renounce their native citizenship ahead of the Games to take a Hong Kong passport enabling them to play in Indonesia and the native-New Zealander says he has no regrets over his decision.
“I’ll always be from New Zealand and class it as home,” Rimene said. “For now my life is in Hong Kong and I’m proud to represent Hong Kong and I’m happy with the choice I made.”
The biggest threat for John’s side looks likely to come from regional heavyweights Japan, who have won sevens gold at each of the last three Asian Games.
Four years ago in South Korea, Japan did not concede a single point throughout their opening five games, and beat Hong Kong handsomely in the gold medal match 24-12.
They also reached the semi-finals of the sevens tournament at the Rio Games before losing out to eventual champions Fiji.
Hong Kong have been grouped with China, Pakistan and Thailand in the preliminary round and will expect to comfortably make automatic qualification which would see them kept apart from Japan and South Korea when the quarter-finals get underway on Friday evening. Should they fail to qualify in the top two, they will have a second chance of advancing as the best third-placed team.
Women’s rugby sevens will get its third run-out at the Games this year, and Hong Kong will be hopeful of building on two fourth-place finishes at the last two Games.
In 2014 they lost out in the bronze-medal match to Kazakhstan, who they had earlier defeated in group play and who they sit one place above in the current women’s sevens world rankings. While in 2010 they were beaten in extra-time of a memorable bronze-medal decider by Thailand.
China are favourites to scoop the gold in the women’s tournament as the emerging Asian powerhouse continue to go from strength to strength.