Hong Kong’s U20s sevens squads will host seven men’s teams and four women’s teams in a one-off battle for the region’s age grade sevens title at this week’s 2018 Asia Rugby U20s Sevens at Kings Park (10-11 August).
Hong Kong are hunting for a fifth straight title in the men’s competition and the hosts enter the fray as the top side in Pool A, alongside South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand. Pool B features last year’s series runners-up Sri Lanka, Chinese Taipei, Singapore and China.
Coach Fan Shun Kei’s men’s squad will wear the favourites mantle after claiming the regional title the past four years running, but the 2018 class bears some marks from that success, with several players swept up into Hong Kong’s senior squads of late.
Former squad members Max Denmark, Hugo Stiles, Alessandro Nardoni and Alex Post have all played for Hong Kong in the past year, as have current squad members Paul Altier and Henry Poon.
The continuous progression of players to senior rugby is a good problem to have according to Fan, who notes that this year’s group features another group of breakout contenders with the U20s programme in rude health at present.
“About half of this year’s squad is new. Some of last year’s group are now studying overseas and two more of our young guns have been promoted to the senior squad recently.
“If this group keeps playing at a top level in Hong Kong or commits to playing a good level of rugby while overseas, they have strong prospects to play in a senior squad and help form the next generation of Hong Kong rugby,” said Fan, a former Hong Kong scrumhalf and long-time sevens squad member.
Fan singled out Sam Down as one to watch in his Hong Kong debut. The speedster played for the Borrelli Walsh USRC Tiers Premiership A side this past season.
By the formbook, Korea and Malaysia are Hong Kong’s biggest threats, while Sri Lanka and Chinese Taipei, who finished second overall last season, are the prime contenders in Pool B.
But things can change quickly at age grade level as Fan is well aware.
“Malaysia and Korea are traditionally strong and we know each other’s styles very well, but we will have to find out more on day one,” he said.
The men beat Sri Lanka, 36-0, in last year’s final at Kings Park to seal their series title after beating Chinese Taipei, 41-5, in the semi final. As defending champions, Fan’s expectations remain high.
“To win, or at least reach the final,” he said simply of the squad’s goal.
Fan believes his side has both the talent – and the incentive – to achieve that target.
“Many U20s players have gone on to play for Hong Kong recently. This group has the same talent level. Players like Max Denmark are an inspiration for the new generation of players on what can happen if they perform at this level,” he added.
In the women’s bracket, Hong Kong are the third seeds in the single pool competition, behind defending series champions China and runners-up Thailand and ahead of Singapore and Malaysia.
Hong Kong’s will be out to improve on their third placed position from last season, but will face a similar hurdle with the return of last year’s top finishers, China and Thailand.
“Those two are definitely our biggest threats again,” said coach Sam Feausi.
“But no game will be easy as Singapore and Malaysia have both had good build-ups coming into the tournament,” she added.
Feausi’s squad features a good mix of youth, blended around a solid core of experience, with four players returning from last year to anchor a group comprised of returning overseas based players and domestic league talent that has progressed through to U20s level after several seasons of age grade representation.
The squad’s build-up has focused primarily on strength and conditioning work, interspersed with hit-out sessions with the Hong Kong women’s sevens squad at the Hong Kong Sports Institute, and things are now coming into shape for Feausi.
“I’m excited about our chances. It’s a young squad but with a really good mix of experienced players. Players are now starting to come through having several years of national age grade rugby behind them, which is a first for the women’s game in Hong Kong,” said Feausi.
“Some of the girls coming in have now been in Age Grade rugby for three seasons, which is one of our fundamental objectives for the programme.
“We are taking a long-term approach and investing resources players who plan to stay in Hong Kong and commit to Hong Kong rugby for a long time. We’ve created a pathway now to the national squad from the programme and all of these girls have the potential to reach that level,” Feausi added.
Hong Kong U20 (Men): Mark COEBERGH (Captain); Paul ALTIER; Henry POON; Hugo CHRISTOPHER; Liam DOHERTY; Samuel DOWN; James GOSTICK; Oliver OVERMAN; Alex WOOD; Thaddeus SUMMERS; Matthew WYATT, Jack ABBOTT
Hong Kong U20 (Women): Amy PYLE, Beatrice BOURRON, Jessica EDEN, Hebe TALAS, Maelle PICUT, FUNG Hoi Ching, SO Yee Kei, Cherly, LAI Pui Shan, Yvonne, Grace HOOD (Captain), Sarah LUCAS, Chloe CHAN, CHUI Kam Chi, Joyce
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