14 Feb 2020

The Hong Kong Rugby Union’s men’s sevens squad is in Santiago Chile to kick off the new World Rugby HSBC Sevens Challenger Series.

Head coach Paul John has included all 12 of the team that qualified for the 2020 Olympics repechage this June in a very competitive touring side. Experienced campaigners Max Woodward, Ben Rimene, Michael Coverdale, Cado Lee, Jamie Hood, Salom Yiu and Alex McQueen are joined by emerging stars Max Denmark, Hugo Stiles, Seb Brien and Liam Herbert from the Incheon campaign.

The squad also includes Raef Morrison, who missed out on the Olympic qualifier with a training injury shortly before the team’s departure last November. Influential playmaker Jack Neville, and grafting forwards Kane Boucaut and Toby Fenn also come into the squad.

The 16-team opener in Mar del Vina, Chile features eight of the sides participating in last year’s men’s qualifier at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens in hosts Chile, Hong Kong, Germany, Jamaica, Tonga, Uganda, Uruguay and Zimbabwe. Seven of the teams participating in the Challenger Series will also rock up at the Olympic repechage in France later this summer.

After a 40-hour transit to Chile, the team has focused on rest and recovery early in the week, before ramping up for Saturday’s kick-off. The ease-in period is even more important given that five of the players took part in the domestic league (15s) Grand Final last Saturday before departing on Sunday.

“The boys seem pretty good,” said John from Mar del Vina.

“Still some aches from the weekend games and a few guys waiting to prove their fitness. We have spent a lot of time getting them physically recovered and ready after the trip and have had a couple of training sessions so far, which have been very competitive,” said John.

John believes his side are well prepared and have not been put off by the postponement of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens to 16-18 October while they were away in South America.

“It’s business as usual. Qualifying for the World Series is one of our top aims and these tournaments will go a massive way towards that. We can only assume we have to win and go as hard as we can, which is nothing different from our usual approach.

“The opposition is very good and these two stand-alone tournaments are effectively a mini World Series swing so it’s a good challenge for us. We have to prepare well, play well and take our opportunities when they come. Our focus can only be on what is in front of us now.”

“We just need to take it day by day and top the group on day one and get a good draw for the quarter finals,” he added.

The winners of Pool B will advance to meet the runners-up in Pool C (Germany, Uganda, Italy and Paraguay) in the quarterfinals on Sunday 

It is an interesting group for Hong Kong with familiar foes Papua New Guinea and Jamaica, whom Hong Kong beat at the Chester Sevens last fall, and first time opponents Colombia.

“Papua New Guinea and Jamaica are always difficult. Colombia is the unknown really and are almost at home. When it’s like that, you really have to be on top of your game. But as always it is about us performing as we can. We have to believe in ourselves and execute what we are good at.

“We need to make sure our own game is right. The way it was in Hong Kong last year, when our defence was excellent and we won some very close games and progressed to the final.”

The World Rugby HSBC Sevens Challenger Series will consist of two tournaments, this weekend’s opener in Mar del Vina, Chile (15-16 Feb.), and next weekend’s finale in Uruguay (22-23 Feb.)

Hong Kong Match Schedule: Mar del Vina Day One

 Saturday 15 Feb. 2020 (All times are HK)

Hong Kong versus Colombia (23.09)

Hong Kong versus Papua New Guinea (02.15, Su Feb 16)

Hong Kong versus Jamaica (05.31, Su Feb 16)

Hong Kong Sevens (Touring Squad): World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series Max WOODWARD (captain); Ben RIMENE; Raef MORRISON; Michael COVERDALE; Hugo STILES; Cado LEE Ka-to; Jamie HOOD; Jack NEVILLE; Alex McQUEEN; Liam HERBERT; Russell WEBB; Max DENMARK; Sebastian BRIEN; YIU Kam-shing; Kane BOUCAUT; Toby FENN