[Hong Kong, 20 April 2023]: The Hong Kong Rugby Union’s men’s sevens squad has been named for the opening tournament of the two-leg HSBC World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series in South Africa.
The Series is part of the qualification process for a spot on the seven-tournament HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in 2024. Two tournaments will be played from 20-22 April and 28-30 April in the Markotter Stadium in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The winner of the men’s series will book a spot in a final four-team tournament with the three teams to be eliminated from the World Series at the end of the season.
Coming off a highly successful appearance at the Hong Kong Sevens earlier this month - and the team’s 11th Cathay Sports Star Awards Team Sport win earlier this week - Hong Kong, China men’s sevens coach Jevon Groves has kept faith with the majority of the team that won the home team’s first trophy in the Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens since 2010.
Twelve of the 13-man squad that will open the batting in Stellenbosch are from the side that won the Shield at the Hong Kong Stadium earlier this month. The team is led by captain Max Woodward and a coterie of senior players including Russell Webb, Seb Brien and scoring ace Salom Yiu Kam-shing, marking a record-extending 71st sevens tournament for the SAR.
The only change to the group is in the forwards with veteran front-rower Michael Coverdale coming in for Callum McCullough, who made his Hong Kong Sevens debut earlier this month, but has picked up a slight injury this week in training.
“It is a strong and exciting squad that draws mainly on players from the Hong Kong tournament,” said Groves, adding that, “Callum’s injury gives an opportunity for Mike to come back in; he played very well in Singapore [HSBC Rugby Singapore Sevens] and looks back to his best, so it is a great opportunity for him.”
On the eve of competition, Groves was confident that the squad is ready: “The setting here is fantastic and we have had some really good training sessions this week. The travel was quite long so we have been slowly building up to it but we are in a good place now.
“With some of the players having played one and even two World Series tournaments coming in, we are game-ready and physically ready. I have seen a lot of progress in our mentality as well. We picked up some good wins in Hong Kong and showed our depth of character in Singapore.”
“All of the boys have had a taste of the competition levels now, but the outcomes for us are far greater from these next few weeks than those last tournaments. A win this week will put us in a good stead for week two and qualifying for the final four-team tournament.
“It is something that we are striving for, and there is added pressure with that, but we have that experience now coming into this from the last few weeks. This is some of the best prep we have ever had coming into a Challenger Series event, with two World Series tournaments behind us.
“We couldn’t ask for more, but reflecting on the competition, this is a gritty tournament. Teams like Germany, Chile, Uganda, and Tonga, have also all had recent World Series experience. We are one of four or five teams that can win here.
“It will come down to who can perform and handle that pressure the best, and then backing that up again the next week. The two tournaments we have played in Hong Kong and Singapore have given us good practice for that, and hopefully we can perform at our best,” he concluded.
Hong Kong will open with games against Papua New Guinea and Italy today, before facing off with Chile on Friday.
“Papua New Guinea have given us problems before. We haven’t seen too much of them but they are powerful athletes who can score from anywhere. We need to focus on our defence and look to create opportunities to score from transition play,” said Groves.
Hong Kong, China Men’s Sevens Travel Squad for HSBC World Rugby Challenger Series (April 2023):
Max WOODWARD (Capt.); Seb BRIEN; James CHRISTIE; Michael COVERDALE; Max DENMARK; Liam HERBERT; Alex McQUEEN; Pierce MACKINLAY-WEST; MAK Kwai-chung; Alessandro NARDONI; Hugo STILES; Russell WEBB; Salom YIU Kam-shing.