18th March, 2017
By FRANCIS XAVIER
SANDAKAN:Defending champions NZ Borneo Eagles and Hong Kong are the early favourites when the 14th Borneo Sevens International Clubs Rugby Tournament gets underway at the home of the Eagles Rugby Clubs (ERC), located at Bandar Utama, Mile 6, Jalan Utara, here today.
The last year’s finalists are surely the teams to watch in the 10-team tournament that also features a women’s category, where seven teams will be competing.
Dubbed as the Greenest Sevens in the World, the tournament will be happening over two days, which ends on Sunday.
This time around, NZ Borneo Eagles will be defending their title with a relatively young squad.
They will be spearheaded by what is seen as the New Zealand Sevens development side that has an average age of about 22 years old, the youngest being 18 and eldest 26.
The host team will again be under the watchful eyes of former All Black captain Edwin Cocker.
When met at the team’s light training at the Sandakan Sports Complex yesterday, Cocker feels his young side can go all the way to the Cup final.
“We got our national tournament and these boys are selected for the initial New Zealand Sevens team, but unfortunately they did not make the cut, and this is another opportunity for them to stamp their mark if they want to be the main team.”
“In terms of defending the crown, this is completely a new team so we can only try our best and hope for the best, so there’s nobody that’s been here since 2016 except for myself.
According to Cocker, they have only been together as a team since they arrived at the airport in New Zealand just recently.
“As a team together … we arrived at the airport in New Zealand because we are all from different (places) of New Zealand.
“We got two from Christchurch, two from Wellington, three from Auckland and one from Counties, they are a mixed (of) second tier, they are in an age bracket where they are trying to prepare for the next Olympics, so they are quite young so they still got a lot of experience to (gain),” Cocker said.
“We will concentrate on our pool and just take every game as a Cup, potentially if we play to our true colours, you know we probably would be happy to get a top two.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s newly appointed head coach Paul John is determined to lead his side to do one step better than last time out.
This will be Paul’s first tournament since taking over the team from Gareth Baber, who now coaches Olympic champions Fiji, since about a week ago.
According to him, they have quite familiar faces that finished second to Borneo Eagles last year.
In the competition, NZ Borneo Eagles will have the company of Sri Lanka, Tribe 7s (Australia), Singapore, COBRA in Pool A, while Hong Kong have been drawn in Pool B alongside Malaysia 7s, DBKL, Sabah Eagles, Alabang Eagles (Philippines).
In the women’s category, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Sabah Eagles make up Group A, while Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, and Eagles RFC Philippines are in Group B.