Max Woodward named captain for crucial campaign ahead

02 Sep 2015

The Hong Kong Men’s Sevens team is set to kick off a climactic season of regional sevens rugby with the start of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series (ARSS) this weekend in Qingdao, China. Hong Kong is the defending Asian champion after sweeping all three events on last year’s Series.

Head coach Gareth Baber will once again face a balancing act this season with multiple goals - and squads - in action over this season’s series.

First up is the priority of retaining Hong Kong’s position as Asian champions – an important component for the long-term inclusion of the elite Rugby Sevens programme at the Hong Kong Sports Institute. A top two finish in Asia will also ensure a spot for Hong Kong in the international qualifiers for the 2016/17 HSBC Sevens World Series early next year.

But looming above all this season is the Asia Rugby Sevens Qualifier in November, which will put Asia’s sole men’s team through to the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil, where Rugby Sevens will debut. The single-event Olympic qualifier will be held in Hong Kong (7-8 November) with Hong Kong facing off against 11 other regional teams. To purchase tickets to support Team Hong Kong at the Olympic qualifier in November, please visit: http://www.ticketflap.com/en/events/653/.

Baber has selected an experienced side for the Series opener with team leaders Rowan Varty, Nick Hewson, Alex McQueen, Ben Rimene, Salom Yiu Kam Shing and Cado Lee Ka To all tipped for Qingdao.

Baber is also using the first event of the Series as an opportunity for some of the other elite rugby sevens athletes at the HKSI, including Chris Maize who emerged from last year’s Asian Series to earn selection for the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, and Tomasi Lawa who has had call-ups previously.

But the most notable change to the squad is the naming of a new captain in Max Woodward who has firmly established himself in Hong Kong’s sevens and fifteens set-ups over the past few seasons.

“Max has the personality and character to lead this team. He has shown strong consistency in his appearances at both sevens and fifteens and has huge respect within the group,” said Baber.

As testament to the esteem he is held in by the squad, Woodward won the national team Player’s Player of the Year award last season while also claiming the Player of the Year award in both sevens and fifteens - a clean sweep that has whisked him into the senior position in the men’s sevens team.

The Hong Kong-born Woodward has also come through nearly every aspect of the Hong Kong Rugby Union age grade programmes rising from minis and colts before captaining Hong Kong at every age grade level including U16s, U18s and U20s to now assuming the captaincy for the men’s seven.

Baber paid tribute to previous captain Jamie Hood saying, “Jamie has done a fantastic job as captain. But we felt that there was already a significant burden on him in terms of decision-making by virtue of his on-field position.

“Position-wise he has to manage three to four aspects of the game at any one time and we felt that having to be in charge of captaincy decisions as well was putting a lot on his shoulders, and perhaps even hindering his personal strengths as a player,” added Baber.

Young gun Calvin Hunter also gets a first call-up for an Asian Series event after impressing with the U20s squad, who successfully defended their Asian title in August.

Michael Coverdale is another emerging player who had a foot in the U20s camp earlier this year but who has already established his presence in the senior sevens side last season.

Hong Kong are pooled alongside Philippines and United Arab Emirates, drafted in as the 12th team for Qingdao, replacing Iran who qualified for the Series and Olympic qualifiers but who are not participating in the opening tournament.

The other teams taking part on both the Series and in the Qualifiers are Asian Games gold medallists Japan, fresh from a season on the HSBC Sevens World Series; South Korea - who broke through to reach two tournament finals on last year’s Asian Series and the ever dangerous Sri Lankans. The Philippines, Singapore, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Chinese Taipei and Kazakhstan round out the competitors who will also take part (alongside Iran) at the sole qualification event in November at the Hong Kong Stadium.

Hong Kong Men’s Sevens (Qingdao Sevens):

Max WOODWARD (captain); Nick HEWSON; Jamie HOOD; Rowan VARTY; YIU Kam Shing; Benjamin RIMENE; Alex MCQUEEN; Cado LEE Ka To; Christopher MAIZE; Tomasi LAWA; Calvin HUNTER; Michael COVERDALE.

Hong Kong match schedule China Sevens (Day I) – Sat., 5 September

Hong Kong v UAE (14:30);Hong Kong v Philippines (17:26)