Asian nations roll out coaching big guns as Ben Gollings and Al Caravelli take reins of Sri Lanka and Philippines for 2012 Series
Japan and Hong Kong will begin as favourites to finish top of the pile when the HSBC Asian Sevens Series (HSBC A7s) kicks off with the Borneo Sevens in Kota Kinabalu on Saturday (September 1). With three spots at the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 at stake, all of the top contenders have doubled down on their efforts to secure a spot in Moscow.
Asian powerhouse Japan, who finished ranked number one last season, and runners-up Hong Kong are once again fancied to be at the helm of a bigger and better HSBC A7s series - expanded to three ranking events this season with the Mumbai Sevens joining the Borneo Sevens and the Shanghai Sevens. The fourth event on this year’s HSBC Asian Sevens Series will be held in Singapore.
Adding another dimension this season is the fact that the series rankings after Mumbai will serve to decide the seedings for the fourth and final HSBC A7s event in 2012, the Singapore Sevens in November, which will also play host to the Rugby World Cup Sevens Asian qualifiers. This has resulted in all three ranking tournaments drawing a record 10 core teams in 2012 making the competition 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.
Japan will retain four members of the squad which figured in last year’s HSBC World Series – 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 World Sevens Series, something they failed to achieve at the Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens last year which decided the three new core teams for the forthcoming season.
“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.
Hong Kong has only one new face in the 12-strong squad for the opening leg in Borneo. Towering forward Eniola Gesinde will make his debut in a team packed with familiar faces including 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 South Korea – who finished second to Japan in the 15-a-side HSBC Asian Five 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 tied 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 has never qualified for a World Cup and will be determined to make a mark in Moscow.
“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 and HSBC Sevens World Series all-time leading points scorer Ben Gollings who is coach of Sri Lanka, having stepped into the vacancy left by Phil Greening who was appointed coach of Scotland recently.
The presence of Gollings 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 HSBC Asian Sevens Series’ Borneo Sevens is again featuring elite women’s rugby action in the Asia Pacific Women’s Sevens championship which begins today, (August 31), with the finals on Sunday (September 2).
For information on ARFU and the HSBC A7s, contact Sean Moore (+852 9092 8889), firstname.lastname@example.org
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