Goliath-slaying Hong Kong look towards Asian Rugby Sevens Series as ‘target number one’
Coach Paul John is eager to avoid any complacency as Hong Kong prepare to renew their rivalry with Japan
What to do for an encore after you have defeated Goliath? This is the question facing the Hong Kong sevens men’s squad as they prepare for this weekend’s Asia Rugby Sevens Series on home turf at Hong Kong Football Club.
The team beat perennial sevens powerhouse Japan two weekends ago to win gold at the Asian Games in Jakarta, a 14-0 nail-biting victory that saw Hong Kong go up early and revert into defensive lockdown for most of the match.
Japan, gold medallists at the last three editions, had gone 22 matches without a loss and were clearly the larger and more aggressive team.
The win held an extra element of sweetness for a few players, including captain Ben Rimene, who surrendered his New Zealand passport to play for Hong Kong at the age of 33. The gold was also probably as equally fulfilling for scrum-half Jamie Hood, who has been with the sevens side for eight years and also played a season in Japan for the Ricoh Black Rams.
Hood said there were a number of players in the squad this time around who tasted defeat at the hands of Japan during two consecutive previous Asian Games gold medal matches (2010 in Guangzhou, China, and 2014 in Incheon, South Korea), so to finally pull off a win had an extra element of revenge to it.
“To have that disappointment and then come away with the win is a fantastic feeling,” he said.
Hood acknowledged after Hong Kong surprised Japan with an early try, the squad changed tactics on the fly and their opponents could not adjust. “It’s never a game plan to go into a defensive mode right away, it’s just how it panned out ... we had a good start and stuck to our basics after that.”
The group was in playful mood during a post-practice photo shoot with their gold medals at the Hong Kong Football Club this week, clearly still enjoying the glow of the win.
Hood said they were obviously ecstatic about the gold medals, but now the focus is on this weekend’s tournament (September 14-15).
“We haven’t had much chance to celebrate,” he said. “As we went back into training we’ve been able to stay away from the hangover, so it’s on to the next job.”
Coach Paul John ran the squad through their first full practice open to the media since the gold medal win, a tight, high-energy session with one goal in mind.
“Getting rid of any type of complacency,” said John. “That’s what we’re trying to do right away, after a great performance beating Japan in the final, we don’t know what type of team they’re going to bring (for the Asia Sevens Series) but we do know they’re going to be trying to put the record straight so we’ve got to be top of our game.”
Hong Kong will face Malaysia, Korea and Philippines in the group stage, with a potential rematch showdown against Japan in the finals. The other group also includes Sri Lanka, China and Taiwan.
John said he was well aware his team now has a target on their backs as the current golden boys of the Asian circuit.
“We can’t underestimate anyone, because everyone’s out to try to beat us now, we’re target number one,” he said. “And the boys have got to realise that, you’ve got no divine right to win. So we’ve got to put that tournament into the back of our minds and put this home tournament into the front of our minds.”
John said aside from Japan, the team’s biggest challenge could be Sri Lanka, who only lost to Japan by two points in the Asian Games.
“They’ve got a lot of fast boys on that squad so we’ve got to be fickle with our defence for sure.”
Hood agreed with his coach’s assessment and added the tournament has unpredictable rosters and lots of “bogey teams that we’ve got to worry about”.