Fiji have again struck form ahead of the Hong Kong Sevens and will be aiming to win their third successive Final when the action starts at the Hong Kong Stadium this weekend.
The Hong Kong 7’s specialists will be looking to make it their 15th win here with their campaign beginning against Wales in the last match on Friday night (March 28).
Rugby Sevens, while not a new phenomenon, is increasingly becoming one of the most entertaining games in the world. And with its re-inclusion to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the attention the sport gets is intensifying.
This is not news to Hong Kong where the premier tournament of the IRB World Sevens Series is held.
The people of Hong Kong have known that the seven-man per team variant of rugby union is an exciting, action packed game that has continued to gain popularity since the first tournament here in the 1970’s.
The excitement has drawn countless tourists from around the world to Hong Kong with the sole purpose of joining in the festivities in and out of the stadium, while being entertained by the stars and young up-and-comers on the rugby pitch.
Apart from the Olympic Games in two years, Sevens is already included in the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Games, the Pacific Games and the Pan-American Games. A Sevens Grand Prix series is played in Europe that includes teams from Russia, Portugal, Germany, Romania, Spain and Moldova.
While the largest series remains the International Rugby Board’s (IRB) HSBC Sevens World Series that began in 1999, the oldest tournament is the Melrose Sevens. Since 1883 the Melrose Rugby Club in Scotland—the originators of the game—have held the invitational tournament. Only two World Wars have led to a break in its annual continuity.
But, the Hong Kong Sevens remains the “Jewel in the Sevens Crown”.
Legendary stories of Hong Kong in spring abound with anecdotes of the Sevens.
A promoter’s dream, it has attracted massive sponsorship—the international airline Cathay Pacific and Rothmans’ Tobacco sponsored the first tournament. It has played the largest part in elevating the abbreviated game onto the world stage. It has been the testing ground for a stream of players who have gone on to become stars of the 15-man game.
Luminaries such as, Kiwis Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen emerged as forces at the Hong Kong Sevens in 1994 and 1996 respectively—both went on to become super stars for the All Blacks.
Fiji are the most successful nation in the Hong Kong Sevens having won the Final 12 times, plus a further two Rugby World Cups Sevens titles that were held in Hong Kong. Making long careers out of Sevens and striding over the pitch in Hong Kong through the 1980’s and 1990’s, Fiji boasted the likes of Marika Vunibaka and the incomparable Waisale Serevi—who made a record 18 appearances in the HK 7’s!
This year, Fiji with their free-flowing style are well positioned to win in Hong Kong having just won the Tokyo Sevens last weekend and may well go on to take the series. However South Africa and powerhouse New Zealand will have a big say in Fiji’s chances of success.
Nevertheless, whoever wins on the world-class Hong Kong Stadium, Hong Kong will again come out the winner. Across the three days, over 100,000 cheering fans will show the world our nation’s unique style of support for any team who thrills in the sporting arena.
Hong Kong Sevens Origins
The annual Hong Kong Sevens tournament has continued to grow and grow since the first one in 1976 at the Hong Kong Football Club in Happy Valley.
Fiji, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Tonga all fielded representative sides. Australia and New Zealand sent club teams. Australia’s Wallaroos (not to be confused with Australian’s women’s national side) were soundly beaten in the inaugural final by New Zealand’s Cantabrians: 24-8.
By 1982 the Hong Kong Sevens had outgrown Happy Valley and the tournament moved to the site of the Hong Kong Stadium in So Kon Po.
The Sevens outgrew the old Government Stadium too, and in 1994, it was replaced with the world-class 40,000 seat stadium. There, the Sevens remains as the biggest ticket in town when the Rugby Sevens circus rolls into town.
In 1997 and 2005 the Hong Kong Sevens tournament was not held with the International Rugby Board (IRB) Rugby World Cup Sevens taking its place at the venue.
This year, 28 countries will compete in two competitions side-by-side. One competition will feature the 15 IRB selected “core” series teams, along with Sri Lanka, who are all playing for the Cup title and world series points.
The other competition will feature the remaining 12 teams. The winner of this competition will be elevated to compete in the HSBC Sevens World Series next season. The team that will be replaced from the core 15 will be decided in the final Seven’s competition in the 2013-14 season in London.