Boots and all

Hong Kong may have missed the boat with Gordon Tietjens, but they must find a ready-made replacement for Gareth Baber

With Ben Ryan on the market and Ben Gollings close by in mainland China, the hunt for a new coach is on and the union need to find an experienced campaigner to step in

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 November, 2016, 3:12pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 November, 2016, 3:12pm

Gareth Baber is out at the end of the year and one can’t help but think – did Fiji’s sluggishness in announcing a new coach cost Hong Kong a crack at Gordon Tietjens?

Tietjens – the most successful sevens coach ever – stood down in early September, calling to an end 22 years at the helm of New Zealand after a poor showing at this year’s Rio Olympics.

By mid-October Tietjens had accepted a role as coach of Samoa.

Ben Ryan also stepped down from his job with Fiji at the start of September, although it took them until the end of October to replace him.

Maybe, just maybe, if Hong Kong were in the market for a coach a bit earlier they may have had a chance to land “Titch”.

Wishful thinking, perhaps, but the chances of Hong Kong landing a genuine big name to replace Baber is not.

The team are quite well placed and, after narrowly missing a spot on the world series at this year’s qualifying tournament, should enter next year’s event in a position to go one better.

Portugal, last season’s relegated team, and Spain, who won the Olympic repechage before a tough campaign in Rio, are the main dangers, but with no Japan, Hong Kong have every right to be confident.

However, the departure of Baber will make the lead-up to next year’s sevens an interesting one and landing the right replacement is crucial.

Hong Kong coach Gareth Baber to replace Ben Ryan as coach of Fiji in the most sought-after job in rugby sevens

Everything seemed to be going swimmingly and the continued improvement Baber was so hot on was there, however gradual, until Fiji pulled one out of left field.

For Baber the move was a no-brainer, while it also shines a very positive light on Hong Kong rugby and the progress made in sevens here.

The reality of sport is that coaches move on and the benefits of Baber’s three-year stint are obvious, but one can’t help but feel that his departure has come at an awkward time.

The Hong Kong Rugby Union has said former Wales international Jevon Groves – who recently came on as assistant – will act as interim while it searches for a permanent replacement.

Baber said he expected things to carry on as normal under Groves and he has created such a well-drilled environment that he could be right.

Gareth Baber confident he can ‘push Fiji rugby forward’ as he takes over from mastermind Ben Ryan

But whether that happens is another thing and what looked to be Hong Kong’s best chance yet of earning a spot on the world series now faces uncertainty.

One would think the union will want an experienced replacement to keep the side moving forward.

They surely have the resources to chase a big name and the fact that Hong Kong has long been known as the home of sevens could well act as a draw card.

Throw in the fact that Hong Kong are almost within touching distance of a world series berth and there might be enough there to convince an established coach to take them on.

Ryan is obviously the biggest name on the market, but he looks to be favouring consultancy roles for the time being.

The lure of Hong Kong would certainly be there for Ryan, having seen the love affair the Fijians have with the city and it would be a more stable position than the one he has just exited.

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Another name that springs to mind is Ben Gollings, who is coaching sevens in China. He is one of the best sevens players of all time and is regarded as a fantastic tactician.

One way of another, it would seem that nothing short of a ready-made coach will fill the void left by Baber.

It is now up to the union to get Baber’s replacement right, or risk losing some of the ground they have worked so hard for.