West Indies open up against Kenya tomorrow evening
- Opposition hoping to make it a step further
The pool draw and full match schedule have been announced for the Cathay Pacific / Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens, the fifth event on the IRB Sevens World Series which commences tomorrow and ends on Sunday.
This year’s event at the magnificent Hong Kong Stadium marks 32 years of Sevens rugby in the country and 10 years of involvement on the World Series.
Traditionally a celebration of Asian rugby, the event continues to offer a showcase for the region’s best teams with six of the continent’s nations competing – Japan, China, Chinese Taipei, Korea, Sri Lanka and the hosts Hong Kong.
Joint Series leaders South Africa and England have both been handed tough pool draws for the 24-team event.
South Africa faces France, Uruguay and Korea in Pool A as number one seeds, while England top Pool B and play Wales, Japan and China across the first two days.
Defending champions New Zealand are still seeking their first Cup victory of the season and face trans-Tasman rivals Australia as well as Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka.
USA Sevens winners Argentina head Pool D as fourth seeds and face three tough matches against Portugal, Tonga and Hong Kong in arguably the toughest of the pools.
Fiji and Samoa face off in Pool E where they also play Canada and Chinese Taipei, while Kenya, Scotland and USA go head to head in Pool F along with a combined West Indies side which kick off proceedings against the Kenyans tomorrow evening.
England and South Africa have both accumulated 60 World Series points at the half way stage in the season, eight clear of third-placed New Zealand and another four ahead of Argentina.
However, with 30 points up for grabs to the Cup winner, history shows that the Hong Kong event can be crucial in deciding the outcome of the Series.
Meanwhile, the Rugby West Indies Team will include three UK based players, James Jones currently playing with Sale in the UK, Luther Burrell currently with Leeds, both Jamaicans, and Kevin McKenzie from Guyana, who has recently joined Bracknell in the UK.
The team had a training stint in Canada and a few trail games prior to leaving for Canada.
Head Coach, Joe Whipple, remarked that the trial games were probably the most intense that players have experienced in the Caribbean. This was endorsed by the players themselves.
He believes that the Team is the best prepared so far, having played successfully in build-up tournaments in Trinidad & Tobago’s International Sevens in December and the Punta del Este Sevens in Uruguay in January and the GT&T camp in Barbados. They have a tough assignment.
Kenya’s Sevens team is living proof that investment in time, effort and talent can pay off at any level.
In the past, the Africans were known for their giant-killing feats – pacy runners able to outstrip the best on their day but just as often let down by poor organisation and defence – but today they arrive in Hong Kong as genuine title contenders, a world class Sevens team.
This is the same Kenya that is ranked 39th in the IRB World Rankings for the 15-a-side game.
Ironically, in fact, the team’s success has put rugby Sevens on the map in their country instead of 15s and their recent victory over Fiji at the Rugby World Cup Sevens, to add to previous wins this term against New Zealand and South Africa, has taken expectation to new heights.
“Reaching the semi-finals and playing the way we did at the World Cup really motivated the team, we knew we could have done it but we’re picking ourselves up now and thinking that maybe if we didn’t do it there, maybe we can do it here,” said captain Humphrey Kayange.
“Maybe nobody’s been noticing, but we’ve been improving step by step.
Last year we were top seeds here too, so we’re just aiming to carry on where we left off.
“We have tricky ties in our pool against USA and Scotland, but overall I think that each and every team will be out there to prove themselves after the World Cup. Every team is out to prove something here.”
Twice Cup semi-finalists this season, the Africans are now targeting a first ever final.
“Most definitely, we’re looking to go a step further, at least break that semi final jinx and reach a final and take it on from there,” added Kayange.
Pool A- South Africa, France, Uruguay, Korea
Pool B-England, Wales, Japan, China
Pool C- New Zealand, Australia, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka
Pool D- Argentina, Portugal, Tonga, Hong Kong
Pool E- Fiji, Samoa, Canada, Chinese Taipei
Pool F- Kenya, USA, Scotland, West Indies