Darwin Sevens Kicks Off Exciting Season for Hong Kong Men’s Sevens Team

22 January, 2015


The stakes are high for the Hong Kong men's sevens team in 2015. The coming months will see Hong Kong have another opportunity to qualify for core team status on the HSBC Sevens World Series at their home event, the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens in March, followed by a title defence of the Asian Sevens crown and the ultimate prize, a chance to qualify for the debut of Rugby Sevens at the 2016 Olympics.

"Without a doubt there are some major competitions ahead for us this year and some pretty big goals for us to aim at," said Hong Kong Sevens coach Garet Baber.

"Our challenge as coaches is to prepare all of the players to get the utmost from them and peak at the times we need them. It is also a massive challenge for the players themselves who have the opportunity to achieve some lifetime goals this season," added Baber.

The action begins this weekend in Australia as Hong Kong seeks to defend its Darwin Sevens title. Baber has selected a mixed squad of young up and coming sevens players and experienced veterans for the tournament, which was preceded by an intensive week-long training camp in Darwin in association with the Australian Institute of Sport.

"There is a good senior veteran presence in the team which is important as we want to keep our momentum from last year's Asian series. There are some of the usual suspects whom we will be looking at to provide veteran leadership, but we also want to look at some of the younger or newer players to see how they go against higher levels of opposition," added Baber.

As defending champions, Hong Kong is the top seed in Darwin alongside some tough opposition including Davetu from Fiji, Borneo Eagles, winners of the 2014 Singapore Cricket Club Sevens, and the Singapore national team building up towards hosting the South East Asian Games this summer.

Baber acknowledges the import of returning as champions saying, "We won last year and our objective has got to be to put the performance in to get us back to the final. Having gone last year I know that we have the level and the quality to return to the final, but the larger objective is to see how the guys react to being in the squad in a competitive environment."

The squad selected for the opening tournament of 2015 features several familiar faces including captain Jamie Hood, Hong Kong's most capped Sevens player Rowan Varty, Hong Kong fifteens captain Nick Hewson, Salom Yiu Kam Shing, Lee Jones and Alex and Tom McQueen. The core group is supplemented by previous youth finds in Max Woodward and Michael Coverdale. Keith Robertson has also been selected as he continues his bid to return to elite sevens competition after a lengthy absence due to career commitments and injury.

HKSI elite rugby athlete Chris Maize has also been given an early opportunity to re-establish himself in the squad after a long lay-off due to injury. "I'm really pleased for Chris. He is finally emerging from a long battle with injuries. He's fully healthy now and we really need to get him back into the senior group. Chris is a good footballer with a good work ethic and we need to get him an opportunity to establish himself," said Baber.

Amongst the new faces in the team is Tyler Spitz, who made his international debut last November in the second Ustinov Cup match versus Russia. Since then, Spitz has been regularly joining training sessions with the sevens squad at the Hong Kong Sports Institute (HKSI).

"Tyler has demonstrated some quality that we want to see in a sevens environment and Keith is obviously a player who people in Hong Kong know very well and who has the ability to break a game open. It is important that we give both of these guys a look early on," said Baber.

Baber has also shown faith in a couple of up and coming players from Hong Kong's U20s sevens team, winners of the Asian Rugby Football Union's U20s Asian Sevens Series title last December. Forward Richard Lewis, son of Hong Kong's most capped international David Lewis, and Borrelli Walsh USRC forward Calvin Hunter have both been included for this weekend's tournament.

"Richard and Calvin have proven themselves around the U20s Series last year and Darwin will be their first real opportunity in a senior environment. They are probably a bit more ready to handle the level of contact required at the senior level than some of the other U20s at the moment and this is their first opportunity to put their hands up for more senior honours."

"The players coming through age grade rugby in the past few seasons have really made a positive impact with their inclusion into the training for the senior squad. Having these guys coming through the ranks is very beneficial."

The immediate target for the squad will be defending its title in Darwin but the ultimate aim in the first half of the season is winning the qualifier at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens to secure a spot on the HSBC Sevens World Series.

"2015 will be our second stab as an HKSI elite sport in qualifying for the Sevens World Series through the Hong Kong Sevens. I think we are in a better position this year with the number of players from the U20s that have been included over the past couple of seasons.

"As coaches we need to manage this talented crop of players coming through. We need to assess which players are ready from a skill and a basic physical level to graduate to the senior squad and then ensure that they get the opportunity to compete in tournaments.

"It is similar to when and how we selected Raef Morrison a couple of years ago in giving him that opportunity. Jack Capon and Michael Coverdale are other good examples of guys we have been able to offer those senior opportunities. It is important that we have enough competitions for players like these and also for those senior players who may not have the highest profile in the squad to break through," Baber said.

Baber is pleased with the progress he has seen since arriving in late 2013 to take the helm of the HKSI elite rugby sevens athlete programme:

"I'm pleased with where we are. To have gone into any competition like we did in last year's Asian Series, where we played exceedingly well, with just one loss out of the three events on the Series and the Asian Games – and that loss only coming in the final of the Asian Games as devastating as that was, it was good to see the consistency across our performance throughout the year."

"I think that consistency says a lot about what kind of team we are and it says a lot about the standards that the players are now holding themselves and each other to. If we keep our focus on what we are trying to achieve and keep to our own systems then we need to be confident that the results will come from that."

"No one in the squad is settled. Every spot is open and there are no pre-set conditions or restrictions on who may or may not qualify for selection for the Hong Kong Sevens. We have several competitions before we get to Hong Kong so there are a lot of opportunities from now until then for players to make their cases. Everything will be open right up to that point. There really is everything to play for in the coming few months and that all starts this weekend in Australia."

Hong Kong Squad for Darwin Sevens:

Max Woodward, Lee Jones, Nicholas Hewson, Alex McQueen, Thomas McQueen, Jamie Hood (captain), Rowan Varty, Richard Lewis, Calvin Hunter, Michael Coverdale, Tyler Spitz, Yiu Kam Shing, Keith Robertson, Chris Maize.