Forward Mark Wright returns as Hong Kong target World Series
Bruising forward a surprise inclusion in 12-man squad as hosts bid for an elusive place among the world’s elite
In a bid to boost forward power, Hong Kong have welcomed back prodigal son and former sevens captain Mark Wright, who was a surprise pick in the 12-man squad gunning to win a permanent place on the HSBC Sevens World Series next season.
Wright, who last played in the Hong Kong Sevens five years ago, has left Japan, where he played in the Top League, and made himself available for selection after returning during Lunar New Year.
He was picked for next weekend's Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens after young forward Jack Capon failed to recover from an injury sustained at the Borneo Sevens late last month.
"I feel bad for Jack, but this is an opportunity I want to grab with both hands. I'm finished with Japan and it is great to be back playing for Hong Kong again," said the 30-year-old Wright.
A bruising forward, Wright last played at the Hong Kong Sevens in 2010 when the hosts won the Shield competition.
But this time the goal is much higher - to win the 12-team qualifying campaign and grab the solitary core spot available in the World Series.
While Wright has been at the centre of the cauldron in a sold-out Hong Kong Stadium, it will be a first appearance for Chris Maize - the only debutant in the squad captained by Jamie Hood and featuring Rowan Varty, who will make his 10th appearance.It will be the fourth time Hong Kong are bidding to qualify in the World Series and top Hong Kong Rugby Football Union official Pieter Schats rated this as the best chance for Hood and his men.
"It is a magnificent feeling playing in front of 40,000 fans and that is worth an extra few points for Hong Kong," said Schats, who is also a former captain. "And I think this squad has an excellent chance of qualifying and we are in the best position to be able to make it."
Head coach Gareth Baber said the team were a nice mix of experience and youth who "weren't afraid of a challenge".
And they will face plenty of challenges against the likes of Spain, Russia and Tonga, who will be among the main contenders in the qualifying tournament.
This is Hong Kong's fourth attempt at qualifying, and third in front of their home fans.
In 2012, Hong Kong bowed out of contention losing to Japan after playmaker Keith Robertson had been red-carded for a tip-tackle in the opening minutes. In 2013, the qualifiers were held in London and Hong Kong lost to the bigger and more powerful Spaniards.
Last year, Hong Kong reached the semi-finals, but lost to Italy who they had beaten in pool play earlier in the tournament.
"This is my first time in a qualifying tournament," Wright said. "I'm 30 and running out of time as a player. It would be great if we can qualify and play in the World Series next season."
Hong Kong are drawn with Brazil, Mexico and Uruguay in the preliminaries.
Hong Kong men’s squad: Jamie Hood (captain), Michael Coverdale, Nick Hewson, Lee Jones, Cado Lee Ka-to, Chris Maize, Alex McQueen, Tom McQueen, Rowan Varty, Max Woodward, Mark Wright, Salom Yiu Kam-shing.
Hong Kong women’s squad: Royce Chan Leong-sze (captain), Christy Cheng Ka-chi, Candy Cheng Tsz-ting, Adrienne Garvey, Kwong Sau-yan, Lai Pou-fan, Nam Ka-man, Natasha Olson-Thorne, Aggie Poon Pak-yan, Amelie Seure, Sham Wai-sum, Lindsay Varty.