Standards will be higher, says new coach Paul John as Hong Kong Sevens teams announced
Germany, Spain and newcomers Uganda await the home side in the qualifier, while South Korea mix it with Fiji, New Zealand and South Africa in World Series
The ever-increasing standard of world sevens will ensure Hong Kong have their hands full in the qualifying competition at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, says new coach Paul John.
The winner of the qualifying competition earns a spot on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series next season, with the teams for the competition confirmed on Wednesday.
Hong Kong, who lost to Japan in last year’s final, will face familiar foes Spain and Germany, as well as newcomers Uganda, the 60th team to compete in Hong Kong since the tournament began in 1976.
“The standard is growing every year,” said John, who replaced Gareth Baber as Hong Kong’s coach.
“As an Olympic sport, more resources are being put into the game and now you have fully professional teams.
“Not just at core level, but in the qualifier competition. Germany have put a lot of resources into the game and are one of the sides to be reckoned with.
“Belgium have beaten core teams in the competition and Chile, Papua New Guinea and Uganda have already played on the series this season. It’s going to be a real challenge.”
Namibia, Guyana, Jamaica, Uruguay, Sri Lanka and Tonga round out the sides in the winner-takes-all qualifier.
Uganda played in the opening two rounds of the World Series and will be looking to use that experience to their advantage after qualifying for Hong Kong by winning last year’s Rugby Africa Men’s Sevens Championships.
“Playing in Dubai was an initiation of sorts,” Uganda coach Tolbert Ondanga said. “The intensity of the game was one that we have not experienced before and we learned a lot.
“Hong Kong is the mecca of sevens and Ugandan fans are well aware of the tournament. It will be a baptism of fire for us, but we have been training very hard.”
For John, the opportunity to coach Hong Kong on home turf after so many good memories here as a player and coach has him excited.
“When I was coaching Wales, Hong Kong was always a highlight,” he said. “I was lucky to play in the 1997 Rugby World Cup Sevens here and to coach Wales to the final in 2013 was incredible.
“I feel fortunate to have the chance to coach the home team and I am looking forward to getting back into the sevens game.”
South Korea, third-place finishers on last year’s Asia Rugby Sevens Series, are the invited team in the main draw, joining the 15 core teams.
Hong Kong will be the seventh round of the World Series, with South Africa dominant so far with four wins from five legs, with round six taking place in Vancouver this weekend.
Defending Hong Kong Sevens champions Fiji are working their way towards top form under the tutelage of Baber, while another Hong Kong favourite in New Zealand are a little off the pace in fourth.
The official draw for the Hong Kong Sevens will be held on March 13.