Hong Kong Sevens still the biggest; 40 teams to contest world series, men’s and women’s qualifiers

By Nazvi Careem

The pioneer tournament for global sevens will have a bumper 40 teams taking part as the battle for HSBC World Sevens Series glory continues and second-tier men’s and women’s teams seek to join the elite party.

Forty teams will take part in the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens from April 5-7 – the largest gathering of unions anywhere in the world in 2019, with 16 teams contesting the main men’s competition on the world series and 12 men’s and 12 women’s sides will compete in the qualifiers for next season’s circuit.

More than 120,000 fans are expected to turn up over the three days of rugby festivities at the Hong Kong Stadium with the 43-year-old tournament once again set to re-establish itself as the best sevens event in the world despite the claims of other cities on the 10-leg series to the No 1 title.

“The Hong Kong Sevens, where the world comes to play” has lived up to that adage since 1976 and the Hong Kong Rugby Union is expected to redouble its efforts to share the spirit of the sevens with Hong Kong, and the world, according to a media release on Thursday.

“The Sevens will spill into the streets once again with the HKRU staging two outdoor fanzones,” the release said. “In recent years, these out-of-stadium initiatives featuring rugby demonstrations, games, food, music, and rugby action on big screens, have attracted more cumulative visitors than the 120,000 spectators inside the stadium over the weekend.”

As ever, all this amusement is in aid of a good cause. Apart from being the lifeblood of local rugby, this year’s event marks the continuing engagement between the HKRU and global sports development charity, Laureus, the first official charity of the Hong Kong Sevens. Proceeds raised from this year’s campaign will support the numerous international sporting charities funded by Laureus, including several programmes jointly identified by Laureus and the Hong Kong Rugby Union Community Foundation.

With the top four finishers on this year’s Series automatically qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, the action on pitch in the Series has been compelling to date with the Series stars set to scorch the Stadium track once again in 2019.

The USA is making waves, having reached the cup final in every event this season, good for tied first with New Zealand, who beat them in the finals in Dubai and Sydney. Both the Eagles and the All Blacks are level on 76 points.

The peloton is hot on their heels, including Fiji, who will be chasing a first ever five-peat at their home away from home event in So Kon Po. Fiji are in third on 72 points after beating the USA in Cape Town and Hamilton. Fan favourites England and South Africa round out the top five, with South Africa in fourth (57 points), followed by England just two points back. Australia, Scotland, Spain, Argentina, Samoa, Canada, France, Kenya, Wales and Japan complete the World Series table ahead of the Las Vegas and Vancouver tournaments in March.

The world’s emerging rugby nations battle it out in the qualifiers, with promotion to the world series on tap for the winners. The uber-competitive men’s qualifier sees 10 of last year’s 12 teams returning to hunt for the top spot, claimed by Japan in 2018, including all three cup semi finalists. Germany, who reached the final last year, and Russia – relegated from the Series, return along with Ireland, whose appearance in 2018 – when they reached the semi finals – was their first here in over a decade. Uganda and Zimbabwe return from Africa, with Jamaica (North) and Uruguay and Chile (South) representing the Americas for a second straight year.

The Cook Islands join the party from Oceania, along with Tonga, in 2019. Hong Kong will fly the region’s flag alongside the Philippines, on their debut in the qualifier, after making their first appearance in 2012 as the 16th team in the Series competition.

The Women’s Qualifier continues to go from strength to strength with the lure of playing beneath the lights at the iconic Hong Kong Stadium coaxing even higher levels of performance out of the world’s top non-Series sides. Hong Kong will host 11 international sides in the tournament that draws teams from each World Rugby region. Nine of last year’s competitors are returning, promising even more thrills than 2018’s dramatic competition where China emerged victorious. With China on the Women’s Series this year, the field is wide open.

Uganda are on debut, bringing the total number of nations that have played here to 42 in the 22 years of the Hong Kong Women’s Rugby Sevens cum women’s series qualifier. Kenya, who were pipped by South Africa in last year’s semi, will also represent Africa.

Belgium, the 2018 semi finalists, Poland and Scotland, returning to women’s sevens competition here for the first time since the Hong Kong event debut in 1997, represent Europe while Mexico, Brazil and Argentina line up for the Americas and Papua New Guinea is Oceania’s entry. Series veterans Japan will be plotting their return to the world stage, but face a strong threat from Kazakhstan and Hong Kong in their bid to claim regional bragging rights.

The draw for all three competitions will be held on 11 March 2019 at Hysan Place in Hong Kong.

Main photo: Hong Kong vs Brazil in a women’s qualifier in 2018. Credit: HKRU

Second photo: Hong Kong vs Zimbabwe during their Sevens Series match, part of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2018 at the Hong Kong Stadium on 07 April 2018 in Hong Kong, China. Credit: John Lehmann/Clique Visuals


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