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Number One: HK sevens boss Gareth Baber eyes Asian Games gold

Hong Kong rugby sevens coach GARETH BABER is targeting victories in the Asian Games and Asian Sevens Series, as he and his players put behind them the disappointment of missing out on a World Series place.

Hong Kong rugby sevens coach GARETH BABER is targeting victories in the Asian Games and Asian Sevens Series, as he and his players put behind them the disappointment of missing out on a World Series place.


Interview SportAsia  Portrait HKRFU / Power Sport Images


How is confidence ahead of your Asian Games mission, especially after winning the first two Asian Sevens Series events in Hong Kong and Malaysia?

Obviously we’re in a confident mood because we’ve achieved what we set out to do in those first two events, but we know we’ve got a lot to do. Every team’s going to have regrouped after the second leg of the Asian series, after we all had a good look at each other. We’ve got to not get complacent and make sure we do the work we need to do before the start of the Asian Games.


It’ll be a tough competition; we know that. The likes of Korea, Sri Lanka and Japan will be buoyed by what they’ve seen and where they want to go, and they’ll be gunning for us.


What are your thoughts on the likes of Japan, who have led rugby in Asia for a long time, Korea, who will have home advantage at the Asian Games, and new sevens rivals like Sri Lanka and the Philippines?

They pose a threat. Sri Lanka were involved in the Hong Kong Sevens in March and played against the World Series competitors. The likes of the Koreans and obviously the Japanese, they’re all driving in the direction of improving performances, always looking at their own programmes, whether they’re full-time, part-time, however they’re managed. But do they make sevens a priority or is 15s a priority? I don’t really know where all those teams are at.


All I can really comment on is what we’re doing here; that we’re on a full-time programme here now and that all the players are responding to that. In terms of a development cycle, we’re probably only really about six or seven months into that.


I would like to think that this time next year and the months following that are going to put us in a better position to really push the programme on. The HKRFU and the Sports Institute have a long-term view of sevens and obviously the big mover in all of that has been the Olympics. That creates a will and a finance to get things done and that’s what we’re looking at now.


Is there a strict target for the Asian Games or Asian Sevens Series that you need to hit to continue the team’s funding and maintain its status at the Sports Institute?

There obviously are stipulations, but the reality of it is that we’ve been in the top two in Asia for at least for the last four or five seasons anyway, so our intention is to stay in the top two in Asia and really look to grab that number one spot.


Grabbing that number one spot is going to be difficult because there are some good sides in it, especially Japan. They’ve developed in a lot of ways as well and their programme is running pretty well. We’re impressed with what we’re doing as a group and impressed with the way the players have worked, and I think staying in the top two and getting the number one spot in Asia is what we’re looking for.


Jamie Hood captained Hong Kong to victory at the Malaysia Sevens i

Jamie Hood captained Hong Kong to victory at the recent Malaysia Sevens, the team’s second straight win on this year’s three-leg Asian Sevens Series.

There have been a lot changes in four years as well. I think that there’s a similar group of players who were involved in the last one, but obviously some have shifted on as naturally happens in rugby.


However, there’s an intention of going to the Asian Games and getting a gold medal. We’ve been in the top two in Asia for the last four or five seasons, but now all the teams in Asia are trying to develop as much as they can.


We’ve got a full-time programme here now and hopefully that’s going to give us a bit of an edge in terms of our development. You can’t stray far away from talent because if you want the best team, you get the best players, but we’re looking to develop ours into the best players and if we can do that in Asia then you get to stand a chance of getting an ‘Asia One’ spot, whether that’s in the Asian Sevens Series or in the Asian Games.


Only the way we play will determine that, so all I’m focusing our players on is making sure they perform to the standards they’re setting and the goals they’re setting.


You started your role just a few months ahead of the team’s bid to win a place on the HSBC Sevens World Series at the Hong Kong Sevens in late March. How are you feeling about the job now – after 10 months, not four?

Obviously I’ve got to know the job a little bit more. I probably know a little bit more about the rugby culture in Hong Kong and the tradition of rugby in Hong Kong. I’ve also come to know some of the stakeholders that are involved with rugby in Hong Kong, which is important as it has a long tradition.


I’m also getting to see exactly what the talent is available to me – and we’re going to develop more talent – and ultimately what the level of competition is out there and where we need to be. So I suppose this Asian Sevens Series, the Asian Games and us competing in Asia generally, the focus is really for us to keep our development going as a group and get the performances we need.


You came into a job with an early target of getting into the World Series. What was the reaction after not getting on and losing to Italy in the semis? How did the players react to that?

The players were disappointed, but they weren’t disappointed at not getting on the World Series; they were disappointed at the way they performed in one game at a tournament. The reality of these tournaments is that you’ve got to perform in every single game. They’re tough environments; they last for two days, you end up playing six games – that’s tough stuff, you know. It’s hot, it’s 33 degrees and you’ve just got to get it wrong once.


Performance consistency is what we look at, so it comes down to the individuals themselves and it comes down to the coaches to create the environment in which those individuals can be consistent. And that was the biggest disappointment.


They recognised it themselves – they didn’t perform in one game. Right through that tournament they performed. They’d had battles with a couple of teams, but they’d come through it and performed. That one game they didn’t. They know that it’s the intention, their goal when it’s time to take the field in tournaments, whatever’s put in front of them, they have to focus on the consistency of their own performances.


Compared to that team in March, who have been the new people in the mix recently?

Michael Coverdale and Jack Capon have come in. Michael represented Hong Kong U-20s at the Junior World Trophy earlier this year. He’s a back-row player and has sort of been in the system for the last year. Jack Capon has come through the Hong Kong development programme, been away to the UK for education and come back.


They’ve just progressed in the last few months and really taken on what we’re doing as a coaching team and as an environment, and they buy into that. We had a recent camp in Canada and they were really up there in terms of the performances and their attention to what’s needed to be pro players, so they get a shout.


Then there’s a lot of players who have represented Hong Kong previously, so there’s a good balance between a new influx of a couple of players who really want to make a point, those who know what the system is about and how to play it, and guys that are trying to make a name for themselves.

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