Ben Rimene ready to fire as Hong Kong embrace home advantage in Asian sevens opener
Gareth Baber feels his side are ready for the high expectation that comes with playing host as they look to get the three-round tournament off to a quick start
Hong Kong are ready to embrace a home advantage that has not always worked in their favour in the opening round of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series (ARSS) starting on Friday at Hong Kong Football Club.
A stunning run to the final of the qualifying competition at this year’s Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens – which they lost to Japan – has given the side confidence and coach Gareth Baber believes they are ready to build on April’s effort.
“We have come a long way since perhaps that was an issue with the players,” Baber said.
“The players are going to have no excuses in terms of being able to come out and be comfortable where they are playing. In reality that comes with added expectation as well and a bit of pressure the players put on themselves.”
There is plenty on the line for a Hong Kong outfit that has exuded a relaxed and focused vibe during training this week, with the winner of the three-round Asian sevens series booking a spot in the main draw of next year’s Singapore sevens tournament.
Furthermore, the top two overall secure their place in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series qualifier in Hong Kong next year and a fast start to the series this weekend is key.
“It’s always a bonus that doing well will get you to those kind of tournaments and playing against the top teams,” Hong Kong fly half Ben Rimene said.
“We obviously have long-term goals, but you can’t focus too much on that yet. We have aims for the Asian series for now and for this tournament.”
Rimene, who wasn’t eligible to play for Hong Kong at the Olympic repêchage in Monaco in June, was one of his side’s best at this year’s Sevens and was dominant in the 15s format during the Asian Rugby Championships.
“Hopefully, I can keep going and carry on, I’m feeling fit,” he said.
“It’s been a hard six to eight weeks of training and we finally get to put it out.”
Hong Kong have named a strong side as they prepare to take on Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Taiwan in pool B, with Baber excited about what Ryan Meacheam and James Cunningham will bring.
“The boys are progressing well,” he said.
“There is more consistency in the way we play and more numbers who are able to play at that consistent level now.”
Baber expects both Malaysia and Sri Lanka to give his side headaches, but is confident of moving through pool play unscathed, with a Japan side featuring a host of new faces likely awaiting in the finals.
“Seeing the squad they have got here for this tournament, they are looking to develop a whole group of players underneath what they’ve got in the world series,” Baber said.
China, Singapore and South Korea accompany Japan in pool A.
Women’s coach Anna Richards has named an experienced side that will use the potential of a funding increase at the Hong Kong Sports Institute as motivation to get the series under way in strong fashion.
“The Asian series is seen as a competition for us to get a good scholarship in if we get a result,” Richards said.
“There are some events that are seen as a tier A event and those are the tournaments we really need to get a result in, a result being top third. The better you can do, the better the scholarship the girls will be on. It allows them to not struggle financially, it’ll make it a lot easier.”
Hong Kong face Japan – who they defeated 14-7 in the Hong Kong Women’s Rugby Sevens this year – Singapore and Guam in pool play, with China, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Sri Lanka making up the opposite side of the draw.
“I think Japan have brought their top side, whereas I think they didn’t have a few of their girls [in Hong Kong],” Richards said.
“We haven’t seen Guam since last year, I think they will have improved as they are playing a bit more rugby now. Singapore I haven’t really seen, so we will just play our game against both of them.”
Hong Kong men’s side
Max Woodward (c), Michael Coverdale, James Cunningham, Lee Jones, Chris Maize, Rowan Varty, Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Cado Lee Ka-to, Ben Rimene, Alex McQueen, Tom McQueen, Ryan Meacheam
Hong Kong women’s side
Christy Cheng Ka-chi (c), Adrienne Garvey, Candy Cheng Tsz-ting, Chong Ka-yan, Colleen Tjosvold, Ivy Kwong Sau-yan, Melody Li Nim-yan, Nam Ka-man, Natasha Olson-Thorne, Aggie Poon Pak-yan, Sham Wai-sum, Cindy Yuen Lok-yee