‘Kind’ draw to help pave way for Hong Kong in World Rugby Sevens Series Qualifier
Gareth Baber’s squad are up against Zimbabwe, Germany and newcomers Cayman Islands in their pool, while main rivals Japan may have to work hard in their pool against Tonga and Brazil
Fate might be best left untempted but she was still flirting away once again with the locals when the draw was made on Monday night for the World Rugby Sevens Series Qualifier.
This year’s event, held as part of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, has pitted Gareth Baber’s squad against Zimbabwe, Germany and newcomers Cayman Islands in pool E.
“The team who must not be named” might just get a touch-up by Tonga and the runaround from Brazil over in pool G during the preliminary matches, with the overall winner making it through to play in the Sevens world’s top tier next season.
It’s impossible to think that the loss to the Japanese in the final of November’s Olympic qualifying tournament in Hong Kong in November hasn’t given all and sundry nightmares ever since so you could forgive the Hong Kong players gathered to watch the draw if any wry smiles broke out.
They had led 10-0 at half-time in that final qualifier only to be KO’d by the one-two punch of Lemeki Lomano and Lote Tuqiri, who took control as Japan won 24-10. That continued a tradition the Japanese have established over the years of leaving Hong Kong’s dreams on the canvas.
But fate has once again been about as kind as she could be and Hong Kong have it all to play for come the weekend of April 8-10.
“The main lesson learned from that experience [in November] is that we’ve come a long way,” said Baber.
“It was there in the way we performed in that final and the way we conducted ourselves over the whole weekend of those qualifiers.
"We’ve got a more mature group of players now and I think they are able to play at a higher level of competition. We need more exposure to that higher level but we are getting there.
“We want to get ourselves into the World Sevens Series as do a group of other teams. It’s become tougher but it should be thus. We know a little bit about Zimbabwe. They hung around at the edge of the world series, like us.”
The Hong Kong coach warned Germany had shown during a recent turnout at the Central Coast tournament in Australia that they had a flash of quality about them but he admitted the Cayman Islanders remained a mystery.
“It’s a draw that shows how close things are,” said Baber. “But that’s what you want. You want to test yourself and you never know what’s going to happen over there with Japan.
"Tonga can be there one day and not the next. You really just never know what you’re going to get. But we’ve got a job to do on day and that’s where it will all begin.”
WATCH: Reaction of men's and women's Hong Kong coaches to the draw for the Sevens
The main draw looked to add another chapter to the mystery that is this year’s HSBC World Sevens Series.
There’s just two points separating the top three teams after New Zealand beat South Africa 19-14 to win the Vancouver leg in the early hours of Monday (Hong Kong time).
That result left Fiji leading on 106 points, with South Africa on 105 and the charging Kiwis in third on 104 after capturing their third tournament of the season in Canada.
Fiji would be happy enough with Wales, Canada and South Korea in pool D, while New Zealand face the enigmatic duo of Samoa and France along with Kenya in the early clashes.
South Africa might be looking to the heavens and wondering why, though, after they were drawn with Scotland, England and Russia.
The figure of David Hasselhoff is looming large over this year’s edition of the city’s premier sporting event – he is here to kick things off with a party on the Wednesday night.
And the American entertainer grabbed everyone’s attention at the end of proceedings, vowing he’s one man who will go the distance. “The Hoff is coming,” he said. “And the Hoff wants to play.”
Take that as a challenge issued.