13 Sep 2018

Ten of the history-making 12-man squad that won the first ever Rugby Sevens gold medal for Hong Kong at the 2018 Asian Games will be in action for the opening tournament of the 2018 Asia Rugby Sevens Series at the Hong Kong Football Club (Friday-Saturday, 14-15 September).


The men are grouped in Pool B with South Korea, Philippines and Malaysia, while Japan, whom Hong Kong defeated in the Asian Games final, heads Pool A with Sri Lanka, China and Chinese Taipei.


The women, fifth placed finishers in Jakarta, are in Pool C behind Asian Games champions Japan, with Thailand and South Korea. Pool D sees China and Kazakhstan, silver and bronze medalists respectively at the Games, alongside Sri Lanka and Singapore.


The men will be in action for the first time since their golden performance in Jakarta.  Squad regulars Toby Fenn and Jack Neville are the only two non-Asian Games squad members to come into the team for the opening series event.


They join ten of the medalist winning squad for the opening leg, including captain Ben Rimene, Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Cado Lee Ka-to, Jamie Hood, Michael Coverdale, Lee Jones and Max Woodward.


The trio of tyros - Max Denmark, Liam Herbert and Alessandro Nardoni, whom have all emerged from the U20s ranks over the past season to play key roles - including in Jakarta, are also included for the Series opener.


The versatile Neville provides another attacking threat out wide while Fenn can be relied on to add some physicality as Hong Kong looks to defend its cup victory here last season.


Hong Kong have already contested the Rugby World Cup Sevens and Asian Games in the past two months, and are now facing the three-tournament Asian series (with events in South Korea later this month and Sri Lanka in mid-October), but John says his side is ready for the challenge.


“Everyone has been training really well since the Asian Games, so I expect selection to be really difficult over the next few tournaments. As far as this selection goes, we just wanted to keep that momentum going as far as possible from the Games.

“We had a good performance and a good tournament but we know that is behind us now. We achieved but we can’t get complacent now. We have to get back to work and get ready for an important series over the next six weeks.


“That is our priority, starting with our home tournament. We want to do ourselves justice so it is up to all of us to back that up.”


John is aware that his side will have a new and very large target on their backs as defending gold medalists after Hong Kong dispatching this weekend’s pool-mates South Korea in the semis in Indonesia.


“It’s not just Korea. There are a lot of good teams in it. You can talk about Japan, Sri Lanka and China. All of them will be coming in strong and teams like Malaysia and the Philippines have improved as well. There is going to be depth all over the park so we need to be on top of our game.”


Despite a congested calendar, John is excited about the challenge ahead for both Hong Kong’s sevens and fifteen programmes with the Asian Series and the upcoming Rugby World Cup 2019 repechage in November.


“Right now, rugby players in Hong Kong have a lot of great opportunities. There are three sevens tournaments, which are very competitive in selection and the Rugby World Cup repechage in November. It’s really exciting to be a rugby player in Hong Kong at the moment.”


Photo credit : Takumi Photography

The women’s sevens squad are sharing a sense of excitement ahead of the weekend, particularly after being given an early opportunity to gain a measure of satisfaction over Thailand, who ushered Hong Kong out of the medal round at the Asian Games. 


Hong Kong will play Thailand in its opening match on Friday (13.14) and coach Kevin West is confident that his side is well prepared coming into the tournament. 


“We really approached the last day at the Asian Games [after being eliminated from medal contention] as the beginning of our preparation for the Series, physically and mentally, so we may be ahead of the teams coming in in terms of our preparations.


“Having said that, we are in a very tough group, both groups are very tough actually, and the structure with crossover matches in the pools leading to the semi finals makes it more challenging, but we are really looking forward to performing like we know we can against Thailand.”


West has made a few changes ahead of kick-off with forward Maggie Au Yeung Sin-yi set to make her first sevens cap after appearing for Hong Kong in non-capped events in Europe and Fiji in the past year. 

Au Yeung will bolster the forwards in the absence of one of the squad leaders in Christy Cheng Ka-chi out with an injury suffered in the Asian Games, while an important backline cog will also be missing in Ivy Kwong Sau-yan who is unavailable for the weekend’s competition.


Natasha Olson-Thorne will captain the squad in Hong Kong with help of other experienced hands like Sham Wai Sum and Colleen Tjosvold, both of whom come into the squad after the Asian Games, as well as forwards Nam Ka-man and speedsters Chong Ka-yan and Aggie Poon Pak-yan on the wings.


“It’s a good squad. 22 girls are training hard for every selection and this team includes a core of the Asian Games squad with younger players like Maggie and a lot of experience coming in with Sham Wai-Sum and Colleen.


“We are probably in a better space for this competition and are feeling fortunate that we have another opportunity to perform post-Games. There are two spots up for grabs in each pool.


“Japan were certainly impressive as the Asian Games champions and we expect them to get out of the group, so everyone else will be fighting for that single spot. All of our focus is on our own performance this weekend and taking each game at a time,” added West.


Hong Kong Sevens Squads (Hong Kong Asian Sevens)

Men:  Ben Rimene (Captain), Salom Yiu Kam-shing, Cado Lee Ka-to, Jamie Hood, Max Woodward, Max Denmark, Alessandro Nardoni, Liam Herbert, Lee Jones, Jack Neville, Toby Fenn, Michael Coverdale.


Women:  Natasha Olson-Thorne (captain), Nam Ka-man, Melody Li Nim-yan, Chan Tsz-ching, Maggie Au Yeung Sin-yi, Sham Wai-sum, Poon Hoi-yan, Colleen Tjosvold, Yuen Lok-yee, Chong Ka-yan, Poon Pak-yan, Stephanie Chan Chor-ki.