Borneo set to welcome Sevens festival(IRB.COM) Friday 31 August 2012
Japan and Hong Kong will start as favourites when the HSBC Asian Sevens Series kicks off with the Borneo Sevens in Kota Kinabalu on Saturday, although with three spots at stake for Asian men’s teams at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 at stake this year all of the top contenders have upped their efforts.
Asian powerhouse and defending Series champions Japan and runners-up Hong Kong are once again fancied to lead the way in a Series which has expanded to three ranking events in 2012 with the Mumbai Sevens joining the Borneo Sevens and Shanghai Sevens.
The rankings after the Mumbai Sevens will be used to determine seeding for the fourth and final Asian Sevens Series event of the year, the Singapore Sevens in November which will double as the region’s qualifier for RWC Sevens 2013.
This added incentive has resulted in each of the ranking tournaments attracted a record entry of 10 core teams, so competition is set to be even tougher.
“We will be focusing on one match at a time. In recent years the level of all Asian countries has increased dramatically and we know that in Sevens anything can happen, so we will have to be at our best consistently,” said Japan’s new coach Tomohiro Segawa.
Core team ambition
Japan retain four members of the squad which figured in last year’s HSBC Sevens World Series in Yusaku Kuwazuru, Katsuyuki Sakai, Kazushi Hano and Lote Tuqiri, and will be led by half back Koji Wada, a member of the 2010 Asian Games gold medal-winning team.
But the players to watch could be twins Kenichi and Shinichi Yokoyama, who turn out for Ricoh Black Rams in the Japan Top League and come highly-rated by coach Segawa.
Segawa didn’t beat around the bush when he said “our first goal is to retain our title as Asian champions and to secure one of three spots for Asia at the World Cup Sevens in Moscow next year”.
But Japan’s long-term goal is also to qualify for the HSBC Sevens World Series, something they failed to achieve in Hong Kong last year where three new core teams for the 2012/13 season were decided.
“At the moment there are no teams from Asia among the 15 core teams. This is why we must qualify for the World Cup as it will give us an opportunity to play against the big teams,” Segawa said.
Toughest Series ever
Hong Kong will field only one new face at the Borneo Sevens. Towering forward Eniola Gesinde will make his debut in a team packed with familiar faces such as skipper Rowan Varty, Salom Yiu, Tsang Hing Hung, Ant Haynes, Simon Leung and the McQueen brothers, Tom and Alex.
“It will be the toughest HSBC Asian Sevens Series ever,” warned Hong Kong coach Dai Rees. “Our focus is on finishing in the top two in the Series and also qualifying for the World Cup.”
Japan and Hong Kong will be pressed all the way by a resurgent Korea, who finished second to Japan in the 15-a-side HSBC Asian 5 Nations, the Philippines and China. Other teams who can be a threat on the day include hosts Malaysia and Sri Lanka.
Former USA Sevens coach Al Caravelli has taken over the coaching mantle in the Philippines and will be hoping his new charges can repeat last season’s heroic performance where they finished ranked joint third.
“With World Cup places on the line every country will be sending out their strongest teams. This will make all games very competitive and a top three finish will be difficult. We expect Japan, Hong Kong and China to continue their dominance and also Korea should challenge for a top three spot,” Caravelli said.
The Volcanoes have retained the bulk of their squad from last year and will rely heavily on the experience of players like Harry Morris, Andrew Wolff and Kenneth Stern. The Philippines have never qualified for a World Cup and will be determined to make a mark in the race to Moscow 2013.
“This is a unique opportunity to put the country on the world stage and it will help local development immensely,” Caravelli said.
Another well-known face on the international circuit that will be around is former England Sevens captain Ben Gollings, who has just become Sri Lanka coach, having stepped into the vacancy left by Phil Greening who was appointed coach of Scotland recently.
The presence of Gollings, the and Sevens World Series all-time leading points scorer, will infuse new confidence amongst Sri Lanka who are capable of pulling the rug from under the feet of more fancied teams on their day.
The pool stages on Saturday will see the Philippines tackle Korea and Singapore in Pool A, while Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates will be Hong Kong's opponents in Pool B. Japan will face Chinese Taipei and Singapore, while China tackle Kazakhstan and Thailand.
Women's teams battle for glory
Running alongside the Asian Sevens Series event is the 10-team Asia Pacific Women’s Sevens Championship, an innovative tournament that combines the best of Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) teams alongside those from the Federation of Oceania Rugby Unions (FORU), which runs from Friday to Sunday.
Reigning champions Papua New Guinea return to defend their title against eight Asian women’s teams and Australia, the current Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens champions.
They are joined by Asian Sevens champions China, Asian Fifteens champions Kazakhstan, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Chinese Taipei and Korea.
Papua New Guinea has been drawn in Pool A with China, Thailand, Hong Kong and Korea, while Australia face the challenges of Kazakhstan, Japan, Chinese Taipei and Singapore.
The Asia Pacific Women’s Sevens will present an ideal hit-out ahead of the 2012 Asian Women’s Sevens Championship in Pune, India, on 6-7 October, which will also serve as the region's qualifier for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013.