By Emmerson Campbell
The three-day International Rugby Board (IRB) Sevens World Series, known officially as the HSBC Sevens World Series, will kick off today in Hong Kong with Guyana facing Portugal in the opening match.
Guyana is in Pool F in the first round of the tournament with Portugal, Russia and Japan and will have to place at least second in the pool to go forward into the qualifying round of the tournament.
Guyana, the six-time North America Caribbean Rugby Association (NACRA) champions will face tough opposition from the Portuguese team which has won eight European titles out of 10 editions disputed, in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2011.
The Portugal rugby Sevens team has experienced unprecedented success in recent years. They were surprise winners of the European Nations Cup and have continued to record impressive results, although they could only finish third in the 2005–06 events.
While the Caribbean ‘Kings’ of rugby are nicknamed the ‘Jaguars’, the Portuguese are nicknamed ‘Os Lobos’, Portuguese for ‘The Wolves’. Pedro Leal and Goncalo Foro are two of the notable Sevens players on the Portuguese side.
Both teams are expected to go all out as the 24-team tournament is one of the pathways to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, as well as a way to become a core team.
During an exclusive interview with Stabroek Sport, team manager Mike McCormack spoke about the team’s spirit, their opponent and the strategies the team plans to employ.
“The team’s morale is good, we are in a very pumped up atmosphere. Competition for three places is very tough and Guyana is in the toughest pool. Portugal is a major contender for a first three places. We have studied videos of their game. They played in four World 7S venues in 2011 and their experience is probably the biggest factor dividing the team,” said McCormack.
He added: ”Total aggression in defense and our speed on the outside are what we rely on. The key to us doing well is to raise the intensity levels of our game from the outset, which scrimmaging this week and last week were designed to achieve.”
Players on core teams become semi-professionals and are paid as semi-professionals. Core teams are also invited and accommodated free of cost to all of the HSBC tournaments.
The first three teams in the final round will qualify as a core team to join the 12 other core teams in the Sevens World Series played around the world.
The players on Guyana’s squad will be captain Ryan Gonsalves, vice captain Richard Staglon, player/coach Theodore Henry, Elwin Chase, UK-based Rupert Giles, Australia-based Kevin McKenzie, Ronald Mayers, Vallon Adams, Christopher Singh, Walter George, Rickford Cummings and Claudius Butts.
The Portuguese side will be made up of Leal, Foro, captain David Mateus, Martim Bettencourt, Duarte Moreira, Sebastiao da Cunha, Francisco Magalhaes, Carl Murray, Frederico Oliveira, Francisco Almeida, Francisco Appleton and Aderito Esteves. The local ruggers earned a place at the HSBC Sevens World Series after they won their sixth consecutive NACRA title last November in Barbados by demolishing the Cayman Islands 29 points to nil.