KUALA LUMPUR: Eight years ago, Saizul Hafifi Mohd Noor captained Malaysia as they finished fifth in the men’s Sevens rugby tournament at the Guangzhou Asian Games.
Now, he is the coach of the Malaysian team for next month’s Asian Games in Jakarta.
Twelve men’s teams will feature in the Games and Malaysia are drawn in Group B with powerhouse Japan, Taiwan and hosts Indonesia.
Hong Kong, China, Thailand and Pakistan are drawn in Group A while Group C consists of South Korea, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan. National coach Saizul said his challenge would be to help Malaysia finish in the top five in Jakarta.
“We have been training hard since we won the SEA Games gold medal last year. Next month’s Asian Games would be our last major Sevens tournament and we want to achieve the target they (our seniors) achieved eight years ago,” said Saizul.
“We have received a favourable draw for the Asian Games. Japan are the favourites to win their third consecutive Asian Games gold.
“But we have a fighting chance to beat Taiwan and also Indonesia,” said Saizul.
“We have beaten Taiwan a few times in the Sevens tournament.
“Hosts Indonesia have never been strong contenders in rugby. So we have a good chance to finish top two in the group to advance to the quarter-finals,” said Saiful.
There are 18 players in the training squad and most of them featured at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast in April.
In preparation for the Asiad, Malaysia will compete in three tournaments – the Perlis 7s this weekend, the Kuching Sevens (July 21-22) and Sapporo 7s International tournament (Aug 4-5).