Rugby World Cup Sevens: Hong Kong head to San Francisco with their backs against the wall – ‘it’s going to be intense’
Ben Rimene can’t wait to step out at the home of Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants, but a new structure ensures his side are under the pump
Hong Kong will be up against it from the word go when they kick off their Rugby World Cup Sevens campaign in San Francisco on Saturday morning (Hong Kong time).
A new structure that has done away with pool play means every match is a knockout and Hong Kong have drawn Russia in the pre-round of 16, a team that has been on the World Series for the past three seasons.
Hong Kong will take confidence from their win over the Russians at last year’s Singapore Sevens, although coach Paul John would certainly have preferred the old structure.
“In a lot of ways yes because you qualify for the World Cup and it’s nice to have those three guaranteed games on the first day and a structure everyone is used to,” he said.
“Russia have been playing well the last couple of months in European competitions and in the World Series, but the side we will play against is pretty similar to the side we played against in Singapore last year.
“But they have a full year of playing on the circuit again so we have to get our game right, we have got to believe in ourselves.”
If Hong Kong can overcome Russia they will meet New Zealand in the round of 16, something fly half Ben Rimene – who grew up there – is excited about.
“Playing New Zealand would be quite a cool experience,” Rimene said, adding that the prospect of playing at the home ground of Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants also has the team buzzing. “It looks pretty crazy, it’s going to be pretty intense.”
Rimene was quick to look at the positives of the new format: “All you can really do is prepare for Russia to start with, which makes it a bit easier in that you are just preparing for that one game.
“You can analyse the team in more detail and we can prepare in more detail for that one game and then worry about what comes after that.”
In the event that Hong Kong do lose to Russia, they will fall into the Bowl and are guaranteed four strong matches, ensuring the tournament is perfect preparation for August’s Asian Games.
Hong Kong tuned up for the World Cup with a two-week trip to Portugal’s Algarve and Amsterdam.
“It was a good exercise for us to do together,” John said of the trip. “Because of the structure of the season, all of the tournaments we play in are the be-all and end-all, we don’t get a chance to practise and we don’t get a chance to get used to how to play in a tournament because everything rides on it.”
John has named a vastly different team from the one that stepped out in the qualifying competition at April’s Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, making five changes.
Veteran Lee Jones returns after an extended stint on the sidelines after snapping his Achilles and then battling dizziness, while Hugo Stiles and Eric Kwok Pak-nga return.
Alessandro Nardoni and Liam Herbert make their debuts, with John praising Kwok and Nardoni for hanging in there.
“Eric’s always been on the fringe but he has just worked hard, he is put on a bit of weight, he is stronger than what he was and he has earned the right to be selected,” John said. “[Alessandro] is the same, he is worked hard and he deserves to have a crack as well.”
Hong Kong squad:
Eric Kwok Pak-nga, Ben Rimene, Lee Jones, Toby Fenn, Michael Coverdale, Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Jamie Hood, Cado Lee Ka-to, Max Denmark, Liam Herbert, Alessandro Nardoni and Hugo Stiles.