11 Oct 2018

The Hong Kong Rugby Union has announced the national sevens squads for the final leg of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series in Colombo, Sri Lanka this weekend (13-14 October).  The men enter as the second ranked side on the Series, after losing to Japan in the previous two cup finals in Hong Kong and South Korea, whilst the women are jockeying for fourth place overall, having yet to manage that breakthrough win that places them into a cup final this season.


The men need only to reach the semi finals stages to cement their second placed finish on the series this year. That result would see Hong Kong automatically book a spot in the international qualifier for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens in April, and earn an invite as the 16th team in the core competition at the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens the week after.


Coach Paul John has given some of his key starters a rest, with captain Ben Rimene, top finisher Salom Yiu Kam-shing and workhorse forwards Michael Coverdale and Toby Fenn all being stood down for round three.   Jamie Hood will stand in as captain in Sri Lanka, leading a core of familiar names from this year’s series including Kane Boucaut, Lee Jones and Jack Neville.


But there are some surprises in the selection with long term national training squad member Tomasi Lawa earning an appearance, as well as former U20s scrumhalf James Christie, who is set to make his senior sevens squad debut in Colombo.


“Tomasi and a few of the boys are having a run because obviously some of the boys have been playing three or four tournaments on the trot and needed a break, but the boys selected have trained well and deserve the opportunity to show what they can do and hopefully they can take their chance when they get it over the next few days.


“Tomasi has trained well and we need to give him and some of the other players an opportunity. He has been a part of the programme for a long time. He played in Sri Lanka a few years ago and obviously he has been playing regularly for Kowloon and seems to have trained better in the past few months.


“He has shown real commitment to the programme, even at times when he hasn't played a lot. He has always been pushing for that place and I’m looking forward to seeing him play,” said John.


John also noted the selection of former U20s captain James Christie who is playing scrumhalf for HK Scottish and will earn his first senior cap in Sri Lanka.

“There are a lot of boys keen to show what they can do and we need to give them a chance on the series. James has been training with us for a couple of months and is playing well for Scottish. He is a halfback and can cover nine and ten, similar to Ben [Rimene] really, so he can do both, which is a bonus.”


Christie will join his former U20s teammates in Max Denmark and Liam Herbert, both of whom will finish the series with three appearances from three tournaments.  Other former U20s players in the squad include Eric Kwok Pak-nga, who gets his first series action of the year after being a part of the squad that won the Asian Games gold in Jakarta, and Raef Morrison, who has earned a second selection after performing well on his return to national sevens duty in South Korea.


Hong Kong will need to at least reach the semi final in Colombo to secure a second overall finish.


“If we reach the semi final, we are guaranteed second, but we are in another strong group again. Obviously China were better in the last tournament than in Hong Kong, as were South Korea and this being Sri Lanka’s home tournament only adds to their threat.


“We’re six points ahead of Sri Lanka and seven ahead of China I think, so we are in a good position in an important group. Now we have to go out and secure that spot,” added John.


The women’s seven have also set markers this season and are chasing a top three finish in Colombo. 


Coach Kevin West has the benefit of a settled squad entering the finale with eight of the squad marking their third straight tournament, while three others have appeared at least two of the three events. 

Only one face in the squad for Colombo is new – and attached to an old rugby head at that - as scrumhalf Lindsay Varty marks her return from a shoulder injury.


“Lindsay has been training for a number of weeks with us and got some good minutes in for USRC Tigers at the weekend, which was a good test of her ability to deal with the contact,” said West.


“She provides something different with her experience and she is hugely versatile and can cover a number of positions as well, so it’s really exciting to have her back,” said West.

The squad is also welcoming back Stephanie Chan Chor-ki, who was injured in the opener in Hong Kong.


“It’s great to have her back,” said West.

“She’s definitely been one of the standout new players for us this season. The Asian Games, the Europe tour, she really stepped up across all of that and has become a core player for us,” West added.


While West is excited to have a near full arsenal at his disposal he noted the continuing absence of one of Hong Kong’s stalwarts in Christy Cheng Ka-chi.


“It’s unfortunate that Christie hasn’t recovered from her ankle injury, we would have loved to have been able to use her in Colombo.


“Her absence is one of the big things for us this season. One of the major positives from this campaign, and one that is largely unseen, is how our leadership group has really taken ownership and stepped up in Christy’s absence. We are hoping they will drive us a bit further this week.”


“We’re happy with how we’ve gone on the series. There have been a lot of good and visible things but also some good unseen things, like the squad’s reaction to Christy’s absence.


“We need to do just as well this weekend, but we know that at different times this season we have been really close to the top three teams. So to turn one of those games into a victory would be a major boost for the campaign and a perfect way to end things,” West noted.


That opportunity could come as early as Saturday after Hong Kong was handed a tough opening day challenge after being pooled with hosts Sri Lanka and the in-form side in women’s sevens at the moment, Japan, setting up a battle to get out of the pool stages.  Hong Kong will play its final pool opponent, South Korea on day two.


 “Sri Lanka are at home so we can’t underestimate them and to get out of that pool, that first game is going to be big for us. All focus immediately is on that first game.


“If we can do the job against Sri Lanka that gives us a really good foothold in terms of getting through to the second day. They have great pace like their men’s team, good physicality as well as a bit of flair to them. They are quite unpredictable.


“We need to pretty much suffocate them and give them no room. Initially defence is the key and that will enable us to play our attacking game after that,” West added.


Hong Kong Men’s Sevens Squad, Sri Lanka Sevens

Kane BOUCAUT; Raef MORRISON; Max DENMARK; LEE Ka To, Cado; Jamie HOOD (Captain); Jack NEVILLE; Liam HERBERT; Alessandro NARDONI; Eric KWOK Pak-nga, Lee JONES, James CHRISTIE; Tomasi LAWA.


Hong Kong Women’s Sevens Squad, Sri Lanka Sevens

Natasha OLSON-THORNE (captain); Ivy KWONG Sau-yan; Melody LI Nim-yan; CHAN Tsz-Ching; Maggie AU YEUNG, Sin-yi; SHAM Wai-sum; POON Pak-yan; Jessica HO Wai-on; Lindsay VARTY; Colleen TJOSVOLD; CHONG Ka-yan; Stephanie CHAN Chor-ki.