The official tournament draw for the Malaysia Sevens, the opening event on this year’s Series, was also held in Kuala Lumpur and officiated by Mr Ross Mitchell, Honorary Secretary General of the Asian Rugby Football Union, Dato Wira Amiruddin Embi, President of the Malaysian Rugby Union and Abdul Sani, Head of Marketing Malaysia, of HSBC.
This year’s HSBC A7S continues the worldwide growth trend in sevens ahead of the sport’s debut in the Olympics in 2016. Most notably, the HSBC A7S has grown from the three ranking events of 2012 to four ranking events for 2013. The number of core teams, (those nations competing across every event on the series), has also increased from last year’s ten to 12, heralding a further improvement in the already-high competitive standard.
The core teams on the 2013 Series are defending champions Hong Kong, runners-up Japan, China, Chinese Taipei, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.
The Series opens this weekend with the Malaysia Sevens, hosted by the Malaysia Rugby Union, and held for the first time in Kuala Lumpur after several successful tournaments in Borneo.
After Kuala Lumpur, Asian sevens action moves to the land of smiles for the Thailand Sevens in mid-September. The Thailand Sevens marks the largest ever HSBC A7S event with 28 teams participating, including 16 men’s teams and 12 women’s teams. The four men’s teams playing alongside the 12 core teams in Thailand are Cambodia, India, Laos and Uzbekistan, with Cambodia and Uzbekistan making their HSBC A7S debuts. The 12 women’s teams in Thailand are participating as part of the two-leg Asian Women’s Sevens Series with the other tournament being held once again in Pune, India.
After Thailand, the Series returns to Mumbai in October for the India Sevens at the legendary Bombay Gymkhana club. Fourteen teams will take part including the 12 core sides, hosts India and Iran.
The Series once again concludes in Singapore with November’s Singapore Sevens - this time granted full ranking status on the Series.
In Singapore, the 12-core teams will be concluding what should be another tight-wire series, (last year’s champions Hong Kong were better by runners-up Japan by only ½ of a point), as they chase more than just Asian bragging rights.
The top finisher on the Series will take comfort that they are leading the stakes for Asia’s sole men’s qualification spot for the 2016 Olympic Games, while the top finishers on this year’s HSBC A7S will again book coveted spots in the world-famous Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens in March 2014.
All of the action kicks off in Kuala Lumpur this weekend with the Malaysia Sevens (August 31-1 September). The official tournament draw was held at today’s press conference.
The top four finishers from last year’s Series, Hong Kong, Japan, Chinese Taipei and China respectively, were seeded into the first row of the four pools with the remaining eight teams banded into two draw groups of four and drawn across the remaining spots.
Hong Kong tops Pool A with runners-up Japan in Pool D, China and Chinese Taipei are ranked as the top seeds in Pool B and Pool C accordingly.
Making matters more interesting in the opening tournament of the 2013 HSBC A7S is that the Malaysia Sevens falls in the same week as the 12th National Games in China, where rugby sevens is making its debut thanks to the sport’s new Olympic status.
As a result, two of the top four seeds, China and Hong Kong, will have the challenge of running two elite sevens squads in a simultaneous period.
The date clash has put extra pressure on Hong Kong’s small player base. Last season, Hong Kong used a core group of players led by Rowan Varty as they won their first-ever HSBC Asian Sevens crown.
“Last year we only used 14 players during the series, but now we will have to split our resources between the National Games and the opening tournament in Malaysia and both are equally important to us,” said Dai Rees, Hong Kong Rugby Football Union’s head of performance and coaching.
All teams know that a good start in Kuala Lumpur will give them much-needed momentum in the four-leg Series.
With the series being expanded to four legs this year, it will give teams a little more breathing space to come back from one bad result but Hong Kong will be hoping that they can still finish in the top-two in Malaysia even though several of their senior players are likely to be on duty at the China National Games.
“Winning a gold medal at the National Games will be important as it is the first time that rugby sevens is being played there – since it is now an Olympic sport – which means the result will carry a lot of weight among the Hong Kong Olympic Committee,” Rees said.
While Japan and Hong Kong are again expected to contest for the top spot, fierce opposition can be expected from South Korea, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, while the Malaysia Sevens can never be counted out on their home grounds at Petaling Jaya.
South Korea will be aiming to make a mark before the Asian Games, which they host in Incheon next year. In recent years the Koreans have failed to fire at sevens and have been a shadow of the sides that used to stun top teams with regularity at the Hong Kong Sevens in the late 90s.
“This series is really important to us as we look ahead to the Incheon Asian Games and good results will boost our preparation for that,” said Korean coach Park Ki Haeng.
The Philippines will hope the hard lessons learned at June’s World Cup Sevens in Moscow will pay dividends. The biggest hurdle facing them, however, is the availability of their leading players who ply their trade in Australia and Japan.
“It’s all about having a quality team for all four tournaments and that is what we are trying to do,” said Philippines coach Matt Cullen. “We are confident that if we put out our best side we can compete for a top-three finish in the series and this is our goal.”
Sri Lanka finished last season on a high on the 15-a-side front when they won the Division One tournament in the HSBC Asian Five Nations and was promoted to the Top Five in 2014.
But their sevens programme was put out of kilter by the sudden departure of their foreign coaches earlier this month leaving the squad rudderless. If they can get their act together, and if Ben Gollings is back again, the islanders can be a threat to any side.
Among the other sides capable of pulling an upset win on their day are Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Chinese-Taipei, the latter finishing a surprise third place in the series last year, earning them an invite to the Hong Kong Sevens for the first time since 2010.
About HSBC and Rugby
HSBC is a long-term investor in Rugby in Asia and around the world. As well as being the title sponsor of the Sevens World Series, Asian 5 Nations and Asian Sevens Series, the bank is co-title sponsor of the Hong Kong Sevens from 2012. HSBC is the Principal Partner of all the Hong Kong rugby teams, and the British & Irish Lions, who played in Hong Kong in 2013 en route to Australia. The bank is also the title sponsor of the Waratahs Super 15 team in Australia, the Penguin International Coaching Academy and the Cobra 10s tournament in Malaysia.
Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU)
ARFU was founded in 1968 with eight member unions. In the past decade its membership has trebled to 28 full and associate member unions ranging from Kazakhstan in the north to Indonesia in the south and Lebanon in the west to Guam in the east. ARFU covers a territory of over 44 sq million kilometres and more than 3 billion people. ARFU is the sanctioning body for the HSBC Asian 5 Nations, which every four years acts as the qualifying event for the Rugby World Cup, and the HSBC Asian Sevens Series, which was held for the first time in 2011. ARFU also offers organized international competition for women and youth across Asia.