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By ARU Media Unit
Qantas Men’s Sevens Coach Michael O’Connor has made three changes to his squad to take on Fiji, France and Scotland at the Hong Kong leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series.
With injury playing a hand in selection decisions, Ed Stubbs, Cameron Clark and Pama Fou have been ruled out of the Hong Kong tournament, after competing for Australia at the Las Vegas Sevens in February.
After debuting at the inaugural Gold Coast Sevens – Fever Pitch Tournament in 2011, Damon Anderson comes back into the side, while Lewis Holland returns from injury and Shannon Walker makes his long-awaited debut for the Qantas Men’s Sevens side.
The tournament will also see Alan Faalavaau continue on in the Australian squad after impressing in Las Vegas, with O’Connor suggesting that he is a “player of the future.”
While continuing with a youthful feel the Qantas Men’s Sevens squad will feature a number of experienced players including Captain Ed Jenkins, Greg Jeloudev, Holland and Daniel Yakopo.
O’Connor knows it is these players’ experience at big events that will be one of the keys to success in Hong Kong.
“We’ve got guys like Ed Jenkins who have played Hong Kong before and that’s really important because the atmosphere can be quite confronting, so it’s good to have guys who’ve experienced it,” O’Connor said.
“Once you get to the knockout stage the stakes are really high and experience is vital. Having played there myself a long time ago, if you ask me it’s the toughest tournament on the circuit to win.
“The last time Australia won Hong Kong was in 1989. Some of our country’s finest players have been there and come back empty handed.”
The Qantas Men’s Sevens side is currently ranked sixth in the HSBC Sevens World Series and will look to return to form after a strong start to the season has been dampened recently with disappointing results in the last two rounds.
Australia kicked off the 2011-12 HSBC Sevens World Series with a fourth-place finish as hosts of the inaugural Gold Coast Sevens – Fever Pitch tournament, before claiming the Plate final in Dubai and making it to the Plate semi-final in South Africa. Unfortunately the young side has been unable to replicate their success in the opening rounds and have fallen to Kenya and Canada in the last two Bowl finals.
O’Connor said his side’s youth and subsequent inexperience have played a factor in some disappointing results in recent tournaments, but the short term disappointment has allowed him to increase the depth in Australian Sevens Rugby.
“We’re an improving side,” O’Connor said.
“We’re in a rebuilding phase going into the World Cup next year, so these tournaments are very important to us in allowing us to build depth and experience.
“The injuries have really opened up our playing pool, in fact we’ve used 21 different players already this year.
“We’re trying to develop players and depth with the World Cup, Commonwealth Games and the 2016 Olympic Games in mind.”
The Hong Kong Sevens tournament runs March 23 to 25 and will feature two tournaments, one for the current 12 core teams and another acting as a qualifier for the 2012-2013 circuit. The second tournament will feature 12 sides with non-core status, with the Top 3 finishers earning core status for 2012-13.
The Hong Kong tournament will also be held in conjunction with the second-ever IRB sanctioned Women’s Sevens Challenge Cup, in which the Qantas Women’s Sevens will compete.
The Qantas Men’s Sevens side enters the Hong Kong leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series as the second seed in Pool C and will play just one game on Day 1, when they face France at approximately 10:45pm (AEDT) on 23 March.
Day 2 will see them square off against Scotland at approximately 1:35pm (AEDT) and Fiji at 9:45pm (AEDT). Day 3 will feature the knockout stages of the tournament.
Fox Sports 2HD and 2 will show all the finals action from Day 3 live on Monday 25 March from around 4pm (AEDT).
Qantas Australian Men's Sevens Head Coach Geraint John has lauded his charges after they recorded their second top-three finish in consecutive weeks.