The Hong Kong Men’s and Women’s national sevens squads will take part in the Borneo Sevens (16-18 March) as preparation for the upcoming World Rugby Sevens Series Qualifier tournaments played as part of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.
The women are the second seeds in Group A, facing off against the likes of Asian competitors Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore and local Malaysian women’s sides in the eight-team women’s competition. The men are top seeds in Group C, with Kiwi side Mellowpuff Trust Barbarians and Malaysian outfits ATM and Sabah Sukma. Belgium, Thailand, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka are all represented with national sides in the 14-team tournament, alongside the customary assembly of top club and invitational teams including the hosts, Borneo Eagles, and Tribe 7s.
The women enter Borneo with some momentum after reaching the final of the Coral Coast Sevens women’s tournament in Fiji in January.
“They have a lot of confidence after reaching the final in Fiji and they have trained really well since then. This weekend will be a good indicator of where they are at,” said Hong Kong Sevens coach Paul John.
Three players have been left out of the squad due to this weekend’s university tournament, including Gai Wu Falcons’ linchpins Aggie Poon Pak-yan and fly-half BB Lee Tsz-ting. Also out of this weekend’s action is Tai Po Dragons’ Agnes Chan.
John and interim women’s coach Kevin West still have a strong group to choose from with captain Christy Cheng Ka-chi and vice captain Natasha Olson-Thorne joining regulars Nam Ka-man, Ivy Kwong Sau-yan, Colleen Tjosvold, Sham Wai-Sum and Chong Ka-yan on tour. That experienced core is rounded out by up and comers Stephanie Chan Chor-ki, Cindy Au Yeung, Sin-yi as well as Amber Tsang Wing-chi and Poon Hoi-yan, who both made their senior sevens debuts in Fiji.
Melody Li Nim-yan, who is returning to form after a lengthy injury lay-off, will make her first sevens appearance of the year in Malaysia.
“It is another important competitive opportunity for the squad, which is what we wanted after last year’s build-up – to play in as many tournaments as we can ahead of Hong Kong. We are focusing on improving our decision-making under pressure and playing more to what we see in front of us.
“Because we don’t play as many tournaments as other countries, we need to try and replicate that game type decision-making as closely as possible in training, although you are never going to get there without playing, which is why opportunities like Borneo are so important,” John added.
The men’s squad has a similarly settled look according to John.
“We have a pretty experienced squad in the men but there are a couple of positions that we want to see players in. We want to look at different positions and get those covered as much as possible, rather than looking at players in specific positions – we want to try to get them into situations that suit them and us.”
Ten of the squad from the Coral Coast Sevens have been selected for Borneo with captain Ben Rimene, Jamie Hood, Yiu Kam-shing and forwards Toby Fenn, Chris Maize and Michael Coverdale forming a familiar core. Last year’s debutants Kane Boucaut, Jack Neville and Seb Brien are all getting another tour as is newcomer Russ Webb, who was included in Fiji but picked up a slight injury on day one that curtailed his appearance on the Coral Coast.
Cado Lee Ka-to has been selected after playing in the Japan professional league last season while U20s star Max Denmark has also been included as the coaches look to test his versatility.
“Max played for the U20s in Fiji and Russ played a little bit in Fiji before he got injured so we wanted to give them both as much time as possible within the group,” said John.
“It’s giving boys like Max who has played both forward and back in fifteens more sevens experience. Max is very quick and we want to see if he can do that [play both forward and back] in sevens as well.
“It’s good to have a fast forward in sevens, but that speed is also a threat out wide. We need to help Max find the position he is best suited to and get him some experience playing in the backs, probably in this tournament.
“Same for Russ, this tournament gives these players another chance to show what they can do and helps us in making sure we have cover in all positions and are getting everyone more tournament experience three weeks before we have to name a squad for Hong Kong,” John added.
The squad will have a warm-up camp with China in Shandong at the end of March, as John looks to give players as much exposure and time to return to fitness as possible.
“The boys not playing this weekend will play in Shandong. That will be great for those players who are not quite there in terms of coming back from injury or in their fitness,” said John.
“Some are on the cusp of being fit but playing in this tournament would probably have been just a bit early, so we are giving them a bit of extra time and tournament experience, not just for Hong Kong but for the Rugby World Cup Sevens and the Asian Games.
Jason Jeyam and Max Woodward are among those likely to be in the group selected for Shandong.
“Jason is just coming back to fitness. He has been out for a bit and is not quite 100% yet. Max has just come back and started training with us and is trying to get sevens fit. He just came back this month so it is early days for him yet.
“It works out well that we have two weekends where we can get the opportunity to play. Hopefully it will make it hard for us to pick a side,” concluded John.
The women will open Hong Kong’s account tomorrow at 16.20 versus hosts Eagles RFC Select, while the men have a single match against local outfit Sabah Sukma at 18.20.