20 Jul 2018

Hot on the heels of advancing to the final stage of qualification for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the Hong Kong Rugby Union is hunting for a different world title this weekend at the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens, held for the first time in the United States in San Francisco.

The straight knockout format puts Hong Kong in ‘must win’ mode from kick-off on Friday when they face off against HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series veterans Russia at 2.51pm (HKG Time: 5.51am, 21 July).

Captain Ben Rimene, fullback Jamie Hood, scrumhalf Cado Lee Ka-to, flanker Toby Fenn and wings Salom Yiu Kam-shing and Max Denmark all return to action after shutting out the Cook Islands in the fifteen-a-side Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification series decider thirteen days ago.

To ease the transition back into sevens, head coach Paul John, who coached Wales to the world title in Dubai in 2009, arranged a training match with Wales earlier this week.  Hong Kong also played in the Amsterdam Sevens and Algarve Sevens earlier this summer as a build up for the world championships.

“It was always going to be a full year for a lot of the players; what with World Cup qualification, the Sevens World Cup, the Asian Games, the Asian Sevens series, and now the final stage of the World Cup repechage upcoming. We knew this was going to be the case,” said Hong Kong coach Paul John.

“There’s a lot going on, which is exciting for Hong Kong Rugby, but a bit tricky at times. We’ve worked closely with Leigh Jones and the fifteens programme in looking at what takes priority at which times, while trying to maintain our own processes.

“The boys have done well to get here and it is a great opportunity for us to be in the World Cup. We want to do ourselves justice,” said John.

 Three of Hong Kong’s younger elite sevens programme members, Eric Kwok Pak-na, Liam Herbert and Alessandro Nardoni, have also been given a tilt on the big stage this weekend and the selectors will be watching them in action with one eye towards the Asian Games in Indonesia later this year. It will be the first senior sevens caps for Nardoni and Herbert.

“This is an incredible tournament to be a part of and gives our newer boys an opportunity to play on the big stage. I think if we can relax a bit out there this weekend, they can show a bit of what they have to offer,” John said.

Herbert, Kwok and Nardoni impressed the selectors in Europe earlier this summer according to John.

“Liam went away with us to Shandong earlier this year and performed well there. He backed that up in the two tournaments in Europe. He has really impressed in training and has worked really hard.

“Alessandro also had two good tournaments in Europe. He has been in the programme for a while but hasn’t had the opportunity to play. He has it this week. Eric’s another player, like Ali, who has just missed out on selection over the last 12 months. He played well when given the opportunity in Europe and he deserves to have a go.”

Hong Kong will welcome back two players from injury this weekend, former U20s captain Hugo Stiles, an X-factor player in the classic Hong Kong form and experienced campaigner Lee Jones.

“Hugo is looking like his old self, he is a bit of a livewire as usual. He is really looking forward to it and I’m sure it is nice for him to be back playing at full fitness. He has looked good at training and we are excited to see how he performs.

“Lee has worked really hard to come back from an Achilles injury in Singapore in 2017. He’s trained well and played well in Shandong and Europe and it is going to be good to have him back,” John added.

Jones and fellow forwards Fenn and Michael Coverdale will be essential in what is expected to be a physical challenge from Russia at the top of the order.

“Russia are a settled team and a World Series team and that makes them a hard prospect. They have threats all over the park from an aggressive running point of view. They are powerful and they will be direct against us, I’m sure,” said John.

“We need to use possession wisely and take our opportunities. We need to finish every possession with as many positives as possible. If we take care of the ball, we will be in with a fighting chance, but it won’t be easy.”

“Hopefully the newer guys can relax and learn from being on this stage, it will be a great development for tournaments that we have coming up,” John added.

The squad is targeting a finish in the upper bracket, which means that they must overcome Russia.

“Before we came we discussed our main objective - to win that first game. That will put us through to the top half or two-thirds of the tournament where we will be playing against the World Series teams, which will be a great preparation for us for the Asian Games.

“If we route to the bottom eight, then our objective is to win a few games and try to reach the higher end of the competition. If we lose, we cross over with Jamaica or France I think; Jamaica have a lot of athletes here and France are on the Series, so it is still playing countries that we need to and want to test ourselves against.

“Sevens is getting more and more difficult, so no matter where we are in the tournament, it will be good to test ourselves against as many teams as possible, especially those we may meet in the World Series qualification tournament in Hong Kong next year,” John said.

Hong Kong Men’s Sevens Squad (Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018)

Ben RIMENE (Captain), Salom YIU Kam-shing, Cado LEE Ka-to, Lee JONES, Toby FENN, Hugo STILES, Liam HERBERT, Eric KWOK Pak-na, Jamie HOOD, Alessandro NARDONI, Michael COVERDALE, Max DENMARK.