22 Oct 2015

Tom McQueen comes back from injury.

Hong Kong Sevens coach Gareth Baber has announced his squad for the Central Coast Sevens in Australia on 24-25 October.It is the last tournament for the men before they compete in the winner-takes-all Asia Rugby Sevens Qualifier on 7-8 November at the Hong Kong Stadium.

The winner of the men’s qualifier in Hong Kong will automatically book their place amongst the 12 international men’s teams participating at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, where Rugby Sevens will debut.

The Hong Kong Women’s Sevens tournament is the first in a two-leg qualification series, with the second taking place in Japan at the end of November.

For the first time this season, Hong Kong will field a fully Olympic-eligible squad in Australia as Baber continues to refine his selection.

“Its pretty much a first-choice squad as all of the players we are taking are eligible for the Asia Rugby Sevens Qualifier in November. Having said that, we are bringing 14 guys and can only select 12 at the end of the day, so who those 12 are still remains to be seen,” added Baber.

Baber will use the action in Australia to determine the final make-up of the squad with the return from injury of flying winger Tom McQueen and grafting forwards Mark Wright and Tsang Hing Hung.

He is pleased to have some of his veterans returning to form after injury lay-offs.

“Tom, Mark and Hing Hung are all players with tremendous experience. They have all played at the highest level: Hong Kong Sevens, Asian Games, East Asian Games. They have been there in the big moments and understand how to play under pressure and those are the kind of players you want to be able to select from.”

The build-up to the tournament will see Hong Kong play in a series of training matches with Australia and Canada ahead of the tournament’s start.

“The training matches will let us see how the guys coming back from injury are looking for the weekend. We can expose some of them to a good level of competition there as well. It will be tough for them, they have to prove they can be in the crowd as the squad has played well to get this to stage,” Baber added.

“We have missed these guys a bit on the series. I think it shows particularly at finals time. We are really pleased with the effort of the young guns in stepping up in recent seasons, players like Mike Coverdale, Chris Maize, Jack Capon and Calvin Hunter – all of whom are in the squad for Australia, but to have the veterans coming back into the frame will be hugely influential.”

“In our last tournament we conceded a few tries in the final, which doesn’t go down well with me. Some of them were cheap tries as well. When you get into the final it is down to the guys who keep their heads the most rather than the guys who try to win single-handedly, so we are looking to see how all of the players perform in that finals environment,” said Baber.

McQueen is likely the most essential missing piece at the moment with a reputation for being a deadly finisher in sevens.

“Tom is getting there in terms of his injury and fitness. He’s probably 85% at the moment and his involvement will be gauged as we go through the week. The games against Australia and Canada will be important benchmarks for his progress.”

“The key for him will now be getting through some games as he continues to get up to scratch. He knows sevens, has played it for a long time and has been training with us now for a few weeks. He knows how hard it is and it’s just getting him over that injury and getting him up to the performance level that is required now.”

Also amongst the returning players is Keith Robertson, who gets a second selection after making his debut in Colombo in the finale of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series.Hong Kong improved with each tournament in the series to finish second overall after being in fifth place at the end of the first of three tournaments on this year’s circuit.

“Keith gets his second selection after a while away from the game. It has been a long time coming for him and we want to give him opportunities to see how he takes the hits and knocks of tournament play and making sure he’s good to go. It’s pleasing to have Keith back in the squad and it will be another step up for him this weekend,” Baber said.

Indeed it is another step up for the entire squad in Australia, as the Central Coast Sevens is shaping up as one of the premier non-HSBC Sevens World Series tournaments in the world.

New Zealand, Australia, USA and Canada are all sending quasi-development squads to the tournament with New Zealand Sevens captain Scott Curry and former captain DJ Forbes both in the New Zealand seven.Germany is sending its full national sevens team and there are also a number of premier Fijian club teams taking part.

But for Hong Kong there will be more of a performance then a competitive result at stake.

“It is a really good tournament for us to play in, with all of the development and national teams playing, plus the standard of the invitational sides is really strong. There is a good mix of world teams and it is hugely important for us to play against this type of opposition more regularly.

“The competition will give us some restrictions on what we can and can’t do. They will pose different questions than we get playing in Asia. We don’t know them as well and they will push us to think on our feet, which will be a good test of how good we are and how good our decision-making is heading into November.

“We’d love to win course, but absolutely there is a premium on our performance this week. We are out to see our performance levels raised from our last time out at the Asian Sevens Series.

“There are 15 or so players we are selecting from for 12 spots. It's very important that we find out who is performing at this point. We need that top 12 performing as the top 12 sevens players in Hong Kong full stop for November, said Baber.

Baber believes he is close to where he wants the side to be come November. “I would like to have all of our players injury free but it doesn’t happen that way. If we play the way we have recently we are a tough team to beat, but we have a lot of work to do to get to that point.

“In terms of the balance of the team we want and the firepower we want to get onto the field, we are now where we want to be,” concluded Baber.

The question now remains: will that place be in Rio next year?

Hong Kong Squad – Central Coast Sevens (AUS)

Max WOODWARD (captain); Rowan VARTY; Salom YIU Kam Shing; LEE Ka To, Cado; Jack CAPON; Chris MAIZE; Michael COVERDALE; Calvin HUNTER; Alex McQUEEN; Jamie HOOD; Keith ROBERTSON; Tom McQUEEN*; Mark WRIGHT*; TSANG Hing Hung*

*2015/16 Season debut