HK Sevens stepping stone for hosts
Hong Kong Sevens captain Jamie Hood believes a spot on the 2014/15 HSBC Sevens World Series would be the "cherry on top" for his side at this weekend's tournament in So Kon Po.
The hosts at the Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens are one of 12 sides vying for the opportunity to join the top sides in the world next season, for a Series which will also act as a part of the Olympic qualification process.
Rugby Sevens became the first team sport to be named as an elite sport at the Hong Kong Sports Institute at the end of last year, and Hood believes the tournament this weekend is the next stepping stone in their journey.
"We are very excited," said Hood on the eve of the tournament. "We have just turned professional at the sports institute so there are a lot of positives behind us and hopefully now more in front of us.
"It would be fantastic (to qualify). Rugby in Hong Kong has been going from strength to strength over the past couple of years and this would be the cherry on top.
"With the Olympics on the horizon and the Asian Games (later this year) this is a big stepping stone for us and hopefully we will make it."
Wall of sound
Playing in front of a home crowd could give Hong Kong, now coached by Gareth Baber, an advantage over the other 11 sides, but Hood is also aware of the dangers posed by all of the other sides in the competition.
"Going out to the stadium is an awesome experience," admitted Hood.
"I have said before it is like a wall of sound with all the support and everyone behind us, and hopefully it'll be no different this weekend.
"The big three we are watching out for are obviously Japan, Russia and Zimbabwe. But come the tournament all the teams will be tough to play against. There are a lot of unknown quantities so you don't know who is going to turn up."
Perhaps one of those unknown quantities will be American Samoa, one of three sides competing at their first-ever Hong Kong Sevens, and a side Hong Kong will face in their second pool match on day one.
Having beaten Papua New Guinea at last year's Oceania Sevens 29-19 in the fifth-place play-off, American Samoa captain Feite Okesene is relishing the opportunity to play in what will be the biggest supported tournament of his career.
"We have never experienced anything like this before," said Okesene at the tournament launch.
"It is the first time American Samoa are in Hong Kong and it is a great honour and privilege to be here and captaining the side.
"We are going to play the best we can but American Samoa are ready, ready to compete in this competition to try and qualify. It is a great opportunity for American Samoa."
— IRB Sevens (@IRBSevens) March 27, 2014