24 Sep 2015

The Hong Kong Rugby Union today announced its Men's Sevens squad for the Thailand Sevens, the second of three events on the 2015 Asia Rugby Sevens Series.

Hong Kong are the defending series champions, but suffered their first loss in Asian sevens Series play in over a year in the opener earlier this month in China, losing to the hosts to end up winning the Plate. Hong Kong will look to bounce back with a pristine performance in Bangkok.

Coach Gareth Baber has kept faith with his squad from China, selecting 11 of the 12-man team from the series opener in Qingdao. Hard-tackling back Tyler Spitz is the only change, coming in to the squad after Tomasi Lawa was injured in training.

"We were bitterly disappointed after China so it was a pretty introspective mood for two or three days when we returned," said Baber. "But we re-grouped and kept things in proper perspective. We lost one game, our first in over a year at this level, and against a team in China that we hadn't lost to in a long while, but that happens in sport. We know we need to pick ourselves up and go out and perform this weekend in Thailand.

"We identified some issues from the first tournament, particularly in our defence and we have worked hard on that in training. Training has been good and the only black mark was the injury to Tomasi. But it's next man up and Tyler adds a lot to the squad," Baber added.

Spitz, who returned to Hong Kong last season, will be making his first Asia Rugby Sevens Series start in Thailand.

"Tyler is very solid defensively and he has a lot of physicality to his game as people saw when he made his fifteens debut against Russia. He has worked hard to get himself into peak sevens condition and has dealt with everything we have thrown at him. He has a good work rate and will be an important addition for us this weekend," said Baber.

While Spitz is not yet eligible to participate in the Olympic Qualifiers hosted in Hong Kong in November and played under tight IOC eligibility restrictions, nine of the 12-member squad tipped for Thailand are Olympic eligible.

One of those players is youngster Calvin Hunter, who has come into the senior squad after some promising performances at U20s level for Hong Kong. Hunter earned his second straight selection after getting some expanded playing time in China once Hong Kong were routed to the Plate.

"Calvin did well on his series debut. He got a lot of playing time after we lost to China and contributed when he was on the pitch. We want to give him another opportunity and see how he handles himself against some of the top teams, who we didn't have a chance to play last time out," Baber added.

Hong Kong's Olympic qualification hopes will also get a boost with several veterans slated to return from injury ahead of the November qualifier, including try-scoring threat Tom McQueen (ankle), x-factor player Keith Robertson (calf) and workhorse forwards Mark Wright (ankle), Tsang Hing Hung (shoulder) and Kwok Ka Chun (shoulder).

"There is a good amount of quality and experience in that group in the wings and a lot of the newer squad members are getting good experience on a highly competitive Asian series, so the competition for spots is going to be really high which is what you want as a coach," said Baber.

But most pressing now is the upcoming tournament in Thailand where Hong Kong is seeded in Pool B alongside top seeds Sri Lanka and Chinese Taipei. Hong Kong has yet to face either opponent this season but coach Baber is well aware of the threats they pose.

"It's a good level of competition in the Pool with Sri Lanka and Taipei. We haven't played either of them but we are very familiar with both sides from previous years.

"The mood in the squad is really good and the players are very focused. We are confident, we have trained well and we know what we have to do. We understand that we need to prove ourselves in every game and that as the champions no one will take us lightly, just as we don't take any of our opponents lightly."

If Hong Kong progresses as expected through the pool and quarterfinal stages, a potential semi final against Japan is on the cards.

The Japan team in China was stocked with some of the Brave Blossoms top sevens players including captain Katsuyuki Sakai and danger men Lomano Lemeki and Jamie Henry, indicating that Japan also have their eyes set on the Olympic qualification this year, especially as they will host Rugby Sevens' second Olympic tournament at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

"Japan will be on a bit of a high after beating South Africa at the Rugby World Cup and I am sure that the sevens guys will be looking to make their own news. They showed a bit of what they have in the opener in China but they don't look vastly different in terms of quality from what we saw of them last season," said Baber.

"It's hard for me to assess them from just watching them from the sidelines. We need to meet them face-to-face to see what they are bringing this season and what they will potentially bring in November.

"That is the reason we always set our target as reaching those cup semi finals. It's not out of arrogance or any expectation about what position we deserve. We know we don't deserve anything unless we earn it on the pitch and through our preparations. But we want to reach those semi finals and play the Japan's and South Korea's because that is where the learning lies for the team."

"We want to test ourselves. It's not about winning or reaching finals at this level. We need and want to learn from every match. China was a good experience for us in that respect. All we want to do is to test ourselves and play at our top potential," said Baber.

Thailand Sevens live stream:
Day I:
Day II:

Hong Kong Men's Sevens Squad (Thailand Sevens):
Max WOODWARD (captain); Christopher MAIZE; LEE Ka To, Cado; Michael COVERDALE; Nicholas HEWSON; Calvin HUNTER; Tyler SPITZ; Alex MCQUEEN; Jamie HOOD; Rowan VARTY; YIU Kam Shing, Salom; Ben RIMENE

Hong Kong Schedule - Day I, Thailand Sevens (Saturday, 26 Sept. 2015)
Pool B: Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei
12:52 Hong Kong v Chinese Taipei
17:52 Hong Kong v Sri Lanka