Paul John names five Hong Kong Sevens first-timers as hosts continue hunt for elusive World Series berth
The Welshman is making his mark on the side and has left no stone unturned in preparing for the weekend’s qualifier
He was thrown into the cauldron of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens in his first few weeks in the city but now Paul John has had a chance to catch his breath and make his mark on his new side.
That was evident in his squad for this weekend’s World Series qualifier, which features five Hong Kong Sevens debutants including 18-year-old Max Denmark.
“I know where I’m going now, that’s for sure. In a way it was the best way to come in last year in a lot of ways, just straight into it,” John said.
“But now we have settled in and everyone’s settled down a little bit and it gives us a chance to step back and have a look at it.
“Our net is a little bit wider now, if you like, there are a lot of youngsters training and we are working well with the 15s and we are coming together as Hong Kong rugby and trying to support each other.
“It means you have got more boys playing sevens and training sevens so that when the lads go over to 15s we can bring a couple more in so we can still train with 14 or 15 boys.
“We are just trying to get the base bigger from a sevens point of view because it’s a very big year and the Hong Kong Sevens are only the start of it.”
Beyond this week there is the Rugby World Cup Sevens, the Asian Games and eventually the Olympic qualifiers, but Hong Kong have left no stone unturned in ensuring they are as prepared as possible to vie for a World Series berth.
There was the Coral Coast Sevens in Fiji in January, the Borneo Sevens in March and a camp in Shandong, while Hong Kong trained against a full-strength Fiji team at the weekend.
“We did a similar thing last year and looking back at it the boys played a lot of games and everybody played everything, so we have tried to share it out this year,” John said.
“We had one group in China and one group in Borneo so everyone was playing a tournament fully charged to give us a chance to finalise the squad.”
Kane Boucaut, Seb Brien, Denmark, Jack Neville and Russ Webb are the Sevens first-timers, however Webb is the only player making his Hong Kong debut and John says the group have gelled well.
“They are definitely close as a group and they are working hard. We have a competitive weekend coming up and hopefully they won’t feel too much pressure and they can express themselves and play like they can,” John said.
“We were disappointed with one of the games in the group last year which gave us a very difficult quarter-final draw.
“Hopefully the boys will realise how important every game is and they have got to because we have got three very hard games. It’s a challenge and hopefully we can rise to it.”
Hong Kong take on Germany, Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea in pool play, all teams who have made it to at least the semi-finals of the qualifiers.
“It’s good to play against Fiji, they are obviously one of the best sides in the world and it just gives our boys a chance to practise what we have been training,” John said.
“It was a contrived, conditioned game, I know, but the structure is something we want to look at because Papua New Guinea sort of play a bit similar to Fiji, albeit at a different level, and it was good for us to practise.”
It was Germany who knocked Hong Kong out of the tournament last year, defeating John’s side 14-7 in the quarter-finals before going on to lose 12-7 to Spain in the decider.
Japan are back in the qualifier in 2018 after being relegated from the World Series at the end of last season and the prospect of another showdown between the fierce rivals will have fans both nervous and expectant. Chile and Uganda are also back after slipping up in the finals 12 months ago.