Hong Kong Sevens

Sevens dream comes true for Hong Kong kids Raef Morrison and Max Woodward

Debutants will be in Sevens heaven after a dizzying few months

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 March, 2014, 1:22pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 April, 2014, 12:07am

There's only two new faces in Hong Kong's men's squad, but they're no strangers to the tournament.

Max Woodward and Raef Morrison are born-and-bred Hongkongers, who as kids chucked balls around the Hong Kong Stadium pitch during the event's mini rugby showcases.

In a dizzying past few months, their dreams of playing in it for real began to appear possible.

Woodward, 23, only returned to the city in August for an internship after university; that same month, Morrison, 18, was thrown into the senior squad as he began his gap year. Both are now full-time professional players, plans of business or backpacking happily abandoned.

"It's been a crazy experience, I didn't expect any of it," says HKFC prop Morrison, who like Woodward went to West Island School. "It's just a dream - I can't think of anything better to do in my gap year than play rugby full time.

"[Playing at the Sevens] is something I've always dreamed of - I've been going since I was two, so I get goosebumps now thinking about it; just standing in the tunnel, with your family and friends and your peers supporting you as you run on.

"I'm speechless really ... I can't picture it ... it's unreal to think I have the opportunity to do that."

Woodward has been pinching himself, too. After a masters in foreign relations at Cardiff University, where he played for Cardiff RFC in the Welsh Premiership, he returned to Hong Kong to chase job opportunities; an entirely different career path awaited.

"It's been a real breakthrough few months," says Woodward, a centre in XVs but a forward in sevens, who played in all the age grades at HKFC before winning the Grand Championship with Happy Valley after his return to the city.

"I played a lot of rugby when I was in Wales, there was a few injuries [for HK] at the start of the season ... [and] I managed to take advantage of those opportunities and get into the programme full time which is fantastic.

"Rugby was for me on the side [upon returning to HK] because I didn't know there was an opportunity to make it a full-time career.

"I was working at BT for two months and then initially I was supposed to work a bit longer but I sorted it out with my employers. I said, 'This is a fantastic opportunity to pursue something that I love, you know I have been playing since I was young'. Things like this don't come around often, you have to take them and I don't regret a thing. I've loved every minute of it so far."

He won the annual televised grudge varsity game against Swansea University in front of 16,000 at the Millennium Stadium, but that will pale compared to a Sevens debut.

"I've been going since I was young. You play on the Sunday with all of the minis in the morning, so you get a little taste of it and it's unbelievable," says Woodward, whose parents are both teachers.

"You just see the players running out, [the shouts of] 'Hong Kong!', and you see the people's reaction ... it's something that I have always wanted to do to, run out for Hong Kong."

Morrison, whose mother works for HSBC and father runs his own recruitment business, was player of the tournament as Hong Kong won the inaugural Asian School Boys Rugby Sevens Championship in July. He felt he was just filling in when called up to the senior team for the first leg of the Asian Sevens Series the following month, with the regulars at the China National Games in Shenyang, but has been a key player since.

Woodward got his first senior sevens cap in the second leg of the Asian Sevens Series, in September, and similarly never looked back.

On the horizon are the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, and then a real chance of qualifying for the Olympics.

Right now, a place on the World Series is at stake this weekend.

"I was talking to a couple of players and they said [qualifying for the World Series] means the world to them," says Morrison, "because they've had the opportunity I think twice now and they just let it slip away. Now we've got the opportunity and we really want to have a real go at it. It's never happened before and all of us are giving it everything we can".

Bogey team Japan are again likely to try to provide a rude awakening; Morrison, Woodward - and the rest of the team - will hope the dream continues for a little longer.