Hong Kong’s new rugby sevens coach Paul John declared himself quietly optimistic the competition’s draw on Monday night as he prepares for the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens next month.
The draw saw Hong Kong pitted against Chile, Sri Lanka and Namibia in pool F of the World Sevens Series Qualifier tournament.
John takes over from Gareth Baber, who left to lead Olympic champions Fiji. “I think it’s a good draw. We’ve got Chile in the group and they’ve performed well on the [main] series the last two weeks, so that’ll be a good test, but it’ll be good to get some tough competition early on.”
Chile have played the last two rounds of the World Series in Las Vegas and Vancouver, getting tested against Vancouver winners England, series leaders South Africa, USA, and only losing narrowly to Samoa and Kenya.
Germany and Spain are top seeds in the other two pools and are the likely obstacles as Hong Kong chase the dream of joining the big teams on the World Series. The qualifier tournament winner is promoted to the main series for next season.
“Chile are the main threat – they’re coming off two weeks on the main series so they’ve got really, really good preparation for the tournament,” said John, who has been monitoring his team’s matches and training sessions on video since being appointed.
“There’s a lot of resources going into sevens [rugby] at the moment all over the world, so these tournaments are tough.”
John coached Wales to the World Cup title in 2009, but says their epic final against Fiji at the Hong Kong Sevens in 2013 almost matched that achievement. Wales looked set to beat the Hong Kong Sevens specialists before Fiji mounted a stunning comeback.
John hopes his new team can similarly punch above their weight when the Sevens kick off on April 7.
John will also take the team to the Borneo Sevens on Thursday for his first look at them in person.
“I’ve been watching footage of training and I’ve seen all the games from the [recent] Fiji trip,” he added.
“I just can’t wait to get started.”
The main draw sees England up against Australia, while favourites Fiji will have to take on New Zealand in the pool stage.
South Africa, who have won four of the six tournaments this season have what looks an easy ride to the knockout stage, while the USA will also be happy with their pool.