Taiwan gets its annual chance to play in front of the rugby world this weekend, but face a daunting task in their first match in the Hong Kong Sevens tournament today against powerful South Africa.
But Taiwan head coach Wu Mao-sheng is keeping his goals simple for the opener. "First, we hope we can score," said Wu, who has led the national side since 1994. "Next, we don't want them to run up the score too much on us."
Wu doesn't expect the Springboks to let up, expecting them to take out any frustrations after falling to New Zealand last weekend in the Cup final of the Beijing Sevens. "We know South Africa is tough. They are much, much better than us," he said.
Things should only get easier after surviving the Springboks, with matches against Canada and Papua New Guinea tomorrow in pool play.
Last week, Taiwan went down fighting in a 40-17 loss to Canada in the Bowl quarterfinal in Beijing and played respectably in a 24-12 loss to Japan. Even though a win over Papua New Guinea is likely tomorrow, Wu is still focusing on Bowl competition on Sunday.
"Our goal is to get to the final of the Bowl championship. Of course, if we can get there and capture the title, that would be even better," Wu said.
Trying to repeat 1988
Taiwan's only Bowl title in Hong Kong came in 1988, although they were runners-up in 1998. The Taiwanese team at Hong Kong Stadium is young, with all but two members still in college and only five players back from last year's squad. Wu said he plans to use the tournament as a test against other Asian squads in preparation for July's Asian Games in Pusan, South Korea. Four years ago in Bangkok, Taiwan was fourth in the Sevens and captured the bronze medal in the 15-man competition after beating Hong Kong.
* Group A: New Zealand, Scotland, Portugal, Sri Lanka
* Group B: South Africa, Canada, Papua New Guinea, Taiwan
* Group C: Samoa, USA, Russia, Hong Kong
* Group D: Australia, France, South Korea, Morocco
* Group E: Fiji, Wales, China, Singapore
* Group F: Argentina, England, Japan, Thailand
While Wu said his young team has the advantages of speed and conditioning, there is also a bit of a fear factor in stepping out on the pitch before 40,000 crazed fans at Hong Kong Stadium. "This is an incredible great challenge for us each year. In Taiwan, we don't play in front of many people at all. Our team is young, and the atmosphere in Hong Kong is so noisy and chaotic. Sometimes our players just get scared out there."
Canucks vs Black Bears?
With the Kiwis, Springboks, Eagles, Les Bleus, Pumas and Canucks loose in Hong Kong, does Wu feel his team lacks an identity without its own nickname? How about the "Black Bears" -- in honor of a species native to Taiwan? Wu welcomed the idea. "There are always 100 to 200 people from Taiwan who cover over to watch us, including the Barbarians team," he said. "It would be great if they could cheer on the `Black Bears' this year."
The top team in each of the six pools plus the two best second-placed teams advance to the main Cup competition in the US$ 150,000 tournament.
The Hong Kong Sevens is the seventh leg of the 11-tournament World Sevens Series.