How prestigious California university Berkeley put Hong Kong Sevens hopeful on track for his ‘everything’
After five years in the United States, Russ Webb is within reach of his dream after being named in Paul John’s extended squad for the World Series qualifier
The United States are running rampant on the Sevens World Series and Russ Webb hopes his five years in American rugby heartland has laid the foundation for his Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens debut.
The 24-year-old returned to Hong Kong in 2017 after studying at the University of California, Berkeley and was on Saturday named in Paul John’s squad for the World Series qualifying tournament in two weeks.
“California is the main feeder into the national team, I was lucky enough to play a year with [USA sevens enforcer] Danny Barrett and he’s doing all right, isn’t he?” Webb said.
“It’s the oldest sport in the school and they take their rugby quite seriously, they love their collegiate sports.
“The standard may not be there but from when I arrived to when I left, the difference in the standard was just ridiculous. Especially with how the States are doing with their sevens, it’s just going to take off I reckon.”
Webb left Hong Kong for school in England at 13 but played national age grade for the territory while living abroad and the magnitude of what lies ahead is not lost on him.
“It’ll mean everything if I get the opportunity to represent Hong Kong. I was born and raised here and have been going to the Sevens since I was about five,” he said.
“All through mini rugby I played on the main pitch. That was one of my favourite things to do growing up, running onto that pitch and watching the likes of Rowan Varty from the stands.
“Now I’ve potentially got the opportunity to represent Hong Kong and it would just be a dream come true.”
Webb, who has played for HKFC since the age of five, is back to full fitness after picking up a knee injury during Hong Kong’s trip to Fiji for the Coral Coast Sevens in January and was one of 17 players named in an extended squad that will eventually be trimmed to 13.
Hong Kong’s build-up also featured a preseason trip to Germany and an appearance in the Borneo Sevens last weekend, while a host of hopefuls are on a training camp in Shandong this weekend.
Hong Kong must contend with Germany, Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea in a tough pool F as they bid to put years of disappointment in the tournament behind them by qualifying for the World Series.
“We’ve played Germany a few times and they are always a tough team. They have a very European style so they are quite big and physical,” veteran Ben Rimene said.
“The preseason camp was quite a while ago and they were coming in with a new coach so we will have to go over some videos of their more recent games to get more of an understanding about how they play.”
Hong Kong’s women continue their bid to make it to the main stadium for the first time at the Sevens and are helped by the fact the quarter-finals will also take place at Hong Kong Stadium this year, as well as the semis and final.
Reaching the knockout stage is no guarantee though, with China, Brazil and Kazakhstan awaiting the home side in pool play on day one at the So Kon Po Sports Ground.
“The mood in the team is very good and we are feeling very positive about getting into day two of competition,” captain Christy Cheng Ka-chi said.
Paul Altier, Kane Boucaut, Seb Brien, Michael Coverdale, Max Denmark, Toby Fenn, Liam Herbert, Jamie Hood, Jason Jeyam, Cado Lee Ka-to, Chris Maize, Mak Kwai-chung, Alessandro Nardoni, Jack Neville, Ben Rimene, Russ Webb, Salom Yiu Kam-shing.
Cindy Au Yeung Sin-yee, Abigail Chan, Agnes Chan Tsz-ching, Stephanie Chan, Candy Cheng Tsz-ting, Christy Cheng Ka-chi, Jess Ho Wai-on, Ivy Kwong Sau-yan, Melody Li Nim-yan, Mak Ho-yee, Nam Ka-man, Natasha Olson-Thorne, Poon Hoi-yan, Aggie Poon Pak-yan, Sham Wai-sum, Colleen Tjosvold, Amber Tsang.