Hong Kong U20 Men & Women’s teams will both have their eyes on the prize at the Asia Rugby U20 Sevens tournament at King’s Park this Friday and Saturday, 4 and 5 August.
Hong Kong U20 Men
Hong Kong’s men are looking to regain the crown they took in both 2014 and 2015 before slipping to second behind Sri Lanka in last year’s event.
Traditionally a two-leg series, the 2017 instalment of the annual competition will feature only this weekend’s tournament at King’s Park and Hong Kong’s men are desperate to go all the way.
“Our target is always to win the competition and that is no different this year,” assistant coach Stephen Dowse said.
“Last year was a bit of a blip as we see it but it’s now the opportunity for the boys to prove that it was a blip.”
Hong Kong take on Uzbekistan, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand in pool play before the tournament heads into the semi-final stage, with Dowse expecting Korea to be the toughest of the four.
“Year in, year out we have got a good understanding of how each of the teams play,” said Dowse, who is the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s elite player development manager.
Sri Lanka and Korea
“The traditional threats of Korea and Sri Lanka will be strong again. Korea are quite structured and like to play a fast game.
“Hong Kong are always a favourite so the other guys will want to put up a good performance against us as well.
“There are no easy games for us, which is a good thing as we want to make sure we are prepared from the first game onwards and we build our performances throughout the weekend.”
Sri Lanka are likely to be waiting should Hong Kong, who are coached by Fan Shun-kei, progress through pool play.
“The Sri Lankans are probably a bit looser in how they play [than the Koreans] but again they are very dangerous,” Dowse said.
“They are happy to play in that chaos-type situation and for us it’s about getting on top of them early and keeping our foot on their throat.”
The Hong Kong team is loaded with experience, with Mark Coebergh to captain a 12-strong squad that includes three players that are part of Hong Kong’s senior sevens squad.
“One of the positives of this squad is that with James Karton, Fong Kit-fung and Chong Shun-hong all at the SI full-time now, they have come into the squad and added a real energy and have got that experience and that lift from training with the SI guys from the start of this year,” Dowse said.
“Mark Coebergh is full-time with the elite rugby programme and is really experienced even though he is still quite young and the likes of Henry Poon and Olly Overman have come through the podium programme, which is our junior elite sevens programme, and we are looking forward to watching them on the pitch.”
Hong Kong are also bolstered by a trio of overseas-based players, with Max Denmark, Dan Archer and Cam Smith all putting their hands up for selection.
“One of the key things for us that is really great to see is the integration of all the different programmes, the boys from national age grade, the boys from the podium programme, the SI and ERP players and then some quality additions from overseas as well,” Dowse said.
Hong Kong warmed up for the tournament with a hit-out against Paul John’s senior side and Karton, Fong and Chong will all be looking to impress ahead of the upcoming Asia Rugby Sevens Series.
“We had a hit-out against the men last week and I think that was fantastic to give the boys some experience playing against better opposition and to take a bit of confidence for the weekend,” Dowse said.
“This is a great chance for them [Karton, Fong and Chong] to really show what they can do over the course of a tournament.”
Hong Kong U20 women
Hong Kong’s women are looking to go one better after finishing second in the two editions of the women’s tournament thus far.
They take on Uzbekistan, China, Thailand, India, Malaysia and Singapore in a round-robin tournament, with each team playing each other once and the top-ranked side crowned the winner.
Coach Mark Komar is confident he has assembled a squad capable of taking top spot.
“We have got a really strong squad and it is probably the most talented we have had in the last three years,” he said.
“China tend to put out a strong side every year and we have beaten Thailand before and they have beaten us, so there is a bit of rivalry there. Those two sides will be our biggest rivals.”
Komar will be assisted by Hong Kong women’s coach Anna Richards, with Grace Hood and Cathy Chan Tsz-ying to co-captain the side.
“Grace Hood is our playmaker and will be crucial, Cathy Chan is a senior player and trains part-time at the SI and brings some of that senior experience and structures and systems that Anna and I have in place,” Komar said.
Komar is looking to the dynamic pairing of Hood and Rose Wright – the sister of veteran Hong Kong Men’s sevens player Mark Wright – to lead from the front over the two days.
“In the past we’ve had an abundance of speed but this year we are lacking a bit,” he said.
“This year our main strength is our ball carriers, we have got some really strong ball carriers who like to take it to the line with a bit of offloading as well.
“We will look to carry the ball a lot. It might not be the typical sevens style but we are going to play to our strengths.”
Abigail Chan, Joyce Chui Kam-chi, Jasmine Fung Hoi-ching, Hau Sin, Sombo Sisay, Hebe Talas and Emily Tuck will be making their under-20 debut.
Kick-off is at 9.30am on Friday 4 August, and 10.00am on Saturday 5 August, at King’s Park 11 Wyllie Path, Ho Man Tin, Kowloon.