The Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU) counted down to
the kick-off of what is shaping up as one of the most wide open
Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens in years with Wednesday's
Captains Photo and Coaches Press Conference ahead of the
tournament start on Friday.
Hong Kong is welcoming 40 international teams
across the three competitions on offer this weekend, including the
HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournament (16 teams) and the World
Rugby Men’s and Women’s Sevens Series Qualifiers (12 teams each).
Heroes have been discovered and careers have
been launched at the Hong Kong Sevens and, as fate would have it,
the 2018 edition will continue to chart the future of the game
over the next decade.
The main reason is that this season has thrown
up a sevens calendar that is overflowing with challenges. From
Hong Kong, some teams will be immediately travelling to
Australia’s Gold Coast for the Commonwealth Games, before a return
to Series action at the HSBC Singapore Sevens at the end of April.
Then there is the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San
Francisco in July so it is little wonder that all the squads
gathered here this week have one eye on victory come Sunday, and
one eye on what lies just around the corner. It makes for an
intriguing mix and plenty of early speculation as to how the drama
might play out.
Fiji are looking for a record fourth victory in
a row in Hong Kong, and coming off a win in the last Series leg in
Vancouver that moved them into prime position behind table leaders
South Africa with Hong Kong, and then three legs to go.
So Fiji are locked and loaded with a squad
boasting Jerry Tuwai as captain and a wealth of World Series
experience, but in drawing Pool A, they seem also to have drawn a
whole mess of trouble what with fierce rivals New Zealand, Samoa
and Russia out to make life difficult for the flying Fijians.
South Africa, in the meantime, are among the
nations who have chosen to split their squad between Hong Kong and
the Commonwealths. The Blitzbokke saw it all coming a few years
ago and have been training their seniors with their juniors in
preparation for the year ahead.
Hong Kong fans will welcome the next generation
from the nation that last season made the World Series all their
own, winning five of the 10 legs and then the title by 28 points.
They are being led this weekend by an experienced hand in Dewald
Human, and they’ll need him to draw on exactly that in a Pool C
that features England, Scotland and the unknown quantity in South
With so many distractions for the other squads –
it may be time for the USA to make good on the promise they have
shown in flashes at the Hong Kong Stadium over past editions. They
certainly have the star power in former NFL player Perry Baker,
who leads the World Series try-scoring table entering Hong Kong
with 32 and always seems to grow an extra leg at the Hong Kong
But the irony is that while some squads minds
might be on the Gold Coast already, the Americans have two
full-strength, non-Commonwealth nations in France and Argentina to
face in Pool D, along with Wales.
Argentina have twice been runners-up this season
– losing to New Zealand in Cape Town (38-14) and to the USA in Las
Vegas (28-0) – and are poised to make their own breakthrough in
As are Kenya, beaten in the Cup final by Fiji in
Canada and throwing themselves full tilt at April with a
Canada and Spain will test but probably not
overwhelm the Kenyans and then there is the mystery surrounding
their final Pool foes in Australia, who are sending a squad of
youngsters hoping to force their way into serious – and extended –
contention in a team that broke through for their first World
Series win in six years in Sydney in January.
So close in terms of talent are the teams vying
to rise up out of the 12-team HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series
Qualifier that it is impossible to pick a favourite. Much of the
early attention will be on Paul John and his Hong Kong squad as
they try once again to qualify for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens
“The quality of the teams in the qualifiers is
excellent and it is up to us to keep up with those standards so we
can give ourselves a fighting chance,” said John when the draw was
Fate has not been kind to the locals at their
home event, what with a Pool F draw that will pit them against
Papua New Guinea – fresh from appearances in the Sydney and
Hamilton legs of the World Series – as well as Germany, who
eliminated Hong Kong 14-7 in the knockout stages last year, and
Zimbabwe, who in 2012 looked to have won the event with one minute
to go against Portugal only to let in two tries to lose 21-17.
Over in Pool E, Hong Kong’s long-time nemesis
Japan won’t have things all their way either, as they must steer a
course past the ever-improving Chile, Georgia and a passionate
Ugandan vice-captain Phillip Wokorach, who saw
his team dumped out at the quarter-final stage last year by Papua
New Guinea, summed up exactly how much the Qualifier means:
“Gaining core status would completely change our lives and rugby
in Uganda,” Wokorach told press back home.
Outside of the locals the fairytale might come
from – who else? – the Irish. Lost in the sevens wilderness and
absent from Hong Kong since 2000, they have regrouped since their
short-form programme was rebooted in 2015. They have been growing
in stature with every outing, qualifying for Hong Kong with a
second-place finish behind Series team Russia in the European
“The boys have been looking forward to this for
a couple of years now and they are really excited about the
opportunity to play in the World Series qualifying event, but also
just to experience the whole Hong Kong Sevens atmosphere which is
always well regarded and well known,” said coach Anthony Eddy.
It will be a tough task, given the fact that
their Pool G features Uruguay – another team to have tasted World
Series action this season [in Las Vegas and Vancouver] – alongside
Jamaica and the Cook Islands.
“It has been some time since we have been here
while numerous teams have been in the repechage for the last four
or five years trying to achieve what we are trying to. We
certainly have some exciting talent and hopefully we get a chance
to perform and people can appreciate how far we have come,” said
The depth of talent doesn’t stop at the men’s
competitions either with a strong argument to be made that the
World Rugby Women's Sevens Qualifier will be the most fiercely
contested silverware this week.
Consider the facts... Twelve teams are vying for
the solitary spot on next season’s Series, many of them primed
also for assaults this year on the World Cup in July and the Asian
Games in August.
The draw has thrown some fierce rivals up
against each other in the early exchanges and a change in format
means that those teams who make it through to the quarter-finals
will get the opportunity to play in front of the 40,000 expected
at the Hong Kong Stadium come Friday.
A Stadium appearance would be a first for Hong
Kong, should they make it out of a Pool B that features Brazil and
familiar Asian rivals China and Kazakhstan.
“We’re in a good position because we’ve played
them all before,” said winger Natasha Olson-Thorne.
“It’s always good to know your opponents ... we
just have to play our style. Our goal is to – minimum – make it to
the quarter-finals and play in the stadium. Hopefully we can get
to the final, too.”
Pool A will feature a South African outfit still
smarting from last year’s 22-10 loss to Japan in the final.
They have been bolstered by the return from
injury of SA Rugby Women's Player of the Year, Marithy Pienaar, as
they look to erase that memory in (another) tough Pool that also
features Kenya, Papua New Guinea and Mexico.
“Experience will help a lot as it will settle
the nerves when the big moments arrive,” said coach Paul Delport
before the squad headed to Hong Kong.
“We have two massive tournaments in the next
three weeks. We need to qualify as a core team in order to take
our programme to the next level, while the team will also be part
of the first ever Rugby Sevens Women event at the Commonwealth
Kenya are following the same path with a similar
mindset after their disappointment at being knocked out by Italy
in a surprise quarter-final loss last year.
Coach Kevin Wambua has made no secret of where
his focus lies this month: “It (Hong Kong) is very important for
us, even bigger than the Commonwealth Games. I mean, we are still
humble and proud to be participating at the Commonwealth Games but
Hong Kong has been our goal and focus all through,” Wambua told
Kenyan media recently.
The fact that the South Africans beat Kenya to
the African Sevens title last year adds extra spice to the Pool
Rounding out the women’s action is a Pool that
will feature Wales, Belgium, Argentina and debutants Poland.
Ninety-three matches will be played as part of
this year’s tournament (including the women’s quarter-finals) with
an expected 120,000 cumulative visitors over the three-day
tournament (6-8 April).
Pictures from 2018 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens,
Pictures from 2017 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens,
Pictures from 2016 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong
Pictures of Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2015,
Pictures of the Asia Rugby Sevens Olympic Games Qualifier in Hong
Pictures of Singha Thailand Sevens 2015,
Pictures from the 2013 British & Irish Lions Tour in Hong Kong,
Pictures of Hong Kong Sevens 2014,
Pictures of Hong Kong Sevens 2013,
of Chartis Cup 2012 and
Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2012.