At the captain’s photo shoot on Wednesday in front a bustling Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong captain Max Woodward was a popular interview request as local and international media surrounded the 26-year-old. There’s change in the air for Hong Kong, with Woodward taking on the captaincy for the first time and new coach Paul John also in charge after just three weeks in the job.
“Paul has come in seamlessly and given us some new ideas heading into Hong Kong. He has been able to assess us as a team, and as he is totally new to the set-up, he has no bias which is great,” said Woodward.
“To win the tournament would be pretty special for us. We don’t get many chances to play together so every year this is huge for us. It’s really special when the crowd are behind us so we’re looking forward to getting some results on the board on day one.”
One of Hong Kong’s rivals in 2016 at the qualifier was Germany, who beat the hosts 12-5 in pool play but failed to repeat the feat in the semi-finals, where they lost out 17-7. Germany captain Pierre Mathurin is confident his side can build on a strong tournament in Hong Kong last year.
“We’re feeling quite well prepared, quietly confident but at the same time we are aware we have good opposition, not only in our group, but also in the whole competition,” he said.
“We made a few small mistakes last year and I don’t think it comes down to any particular part of our game but we’ve certainly learned from the tournament in 2016 and have been building up to the tournament well, spending a lot of time together over the past few months.”
Pool E – GERMANY, TONGA, UGANDA, JAMAICA
While Germany have the experience, African sevens champions Uganda will be in with a good chance of topping Pool E following their two tournament appearances on the main series in 2016-17, playing in both Dubai and Cape Town.
Uganda, who are the 60th union to appear in Hong Kong, notched up their first win since 2004 in Dubai last December, beating Japan 26-19. Tonga failed to reach the semi-final stages in 2016, winning one match in the pools against Brazil, 26-5 and a heavy 33-0 loss to Japan in the quarter-finals, while Jamaica make their first appearance at the qualifier since 2013.
POOL F – HONG KONG, CHILE, SRI LANKA, NAMIBIA
Chile won two of their three pool matches in 2016 and faced Zimbabwe in the qualifier quarter-final, but lost out 19-5, while Sri Lanka make their debut at the competition. Namibia, who last appeared in Hong Kong in 2004 on the world series, have never featured in the qualifier.
POOL G – SPAIN, PAPUA NEW GUINEA, URUGUAY, GUYANA
Having starred in the Olympic Games, Spain are a strong team going into the Hong Kong qualifier, and in 2016 reached the quarter-finals only to lose to Hong Kong 12-7. Papua New Guinea featured on the world series earlier this year in Wellington and Sydney and last played in the qualifier in 2015, where they reached the semi-finals and lost 26-7 to eventual champions Russia.
Uruguay played Papua New Guinea in their last qualifier quarter-final back in 2015, losing 38-10 while Guyana lost all three of their pool matches in that same year here in Hong Kong.