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Hong Kong Sevens Celebrates 40 years

by Leana Kell

The Hong Kong Sevens is due to begin in just 10 days, and in celebration of its 40th year, Centurion takes a look at the premier tournament in the IRB Sevens World Series rugby sevens competition.

The Hong Kong Sevens is the sixth tournament on the IRB Sevens World Series held annually on the final weekend in March. This year's event will take place on the 27-29 March 2015 and the world famous tournament will see Hong Kong once again retain its status as the largest tournament on the HSBC Sevens World Series.

This year, 16 international teams will contest the HSBC Sevens World Series core team competition with an additional 12 teams contesting the international HSBC Sevens World Series qualifier for a chance at promotion to the international series in 2016.

New Zealand is the defending Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens champion after their 26-7 victory over England in last year's cup final.

Steeped in history

The Hong Kong Sevens tournament is organised every year by the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU). Described by Bill McLaren in his autobiography' 'Talking of Rugby' as 'the Olympic Games of Rugby Union', the Hong Kong sevens has grown in popularity since it started back in 1976.

The tournament was originally the idea of Marketing and Promotions Manager for Rothman's Export, Rodney Bentham-Wood, who wanted to sponsor a pan Asia rugby Tournament. After a discussion between Bentham-Wood and chairman of the HKRFU, known as A.D.C. Tokkie Smith, it was decided that a Sevens Tournament would be more simple and cheaper to set up.

After an initial proposal was refused by the Rugby Football Union in the UK, the HKRFU decided to send out invitations to Asian and Pacific sides, and on 28th March 1976, clubs from Indonesia, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Japan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Fiji participated in the very first Hong Kong Sevens Tournament, held at the Hong Kong Football Club in Happy Valley.

The tournament was sponsored by Rothmans' Tobacco and Cathay Pacific and was one of the first rugby tournaments to attract commercial sponsorship.

The series grew into a competition with national representative sevens sides competing, and by 1982, it had already moved to the Hong Kong Stadium.

The Hong Kong Sevens has become instrumental in allowing nations with smaller numbers of players to have the chance to compete at a national level and play against players of a much higher standard, which in turn serves as an opportunity for participating nations to improve the standard of their game.

Hong Kong Sevens 40th Year Celebrations

To celebrate the 40th year of the popular Rugby Sevens tournament in Hong Kong, the HKRFU has planned expanded rugby and entertainment for the 120,000 spectators expected to visit the event. The main musical act for the 2015 tournament is international recording artists the Village People whose costumes and signature songs will perfectly compliment the famed fancy dress.

The ICC and the HKRFU will present a special light show entitled 'Hong Kong's Rugby Spirit' where onlookers can witness the entire facade of the 490 meter ICC building on the Kowloon harbour front, light up with a spectacular synchronised light show.

Sunday’s final will be marked by an exhibition match between an all-star team and seven kung fu masters - it's not to be missed!

What makes the Hong Kong Sevens so unique?

• The tournament provides a huge boost to Hong Kong's economy - around £25 million revenue.

• 28 national teams will take part and the tournament will be included as part of the 2016 Olympic qualifying process.

• A host of entertainment is provided both on and off the pitch.

• The location of the 40,000 seat stadium is within the beautiful valley of So Kon Po meaning "Safe Haven" on Hong Kong Island.

• Dressing up is obligatory (pandas, pirates and Prince Charles are among some of the outfits previously spotted at the tournament)!

• If you're partial to a post-match tipple, there's plenty of excellent bars to be found within walking distance of the stadium.

• Hong Kong’s sub-tropical climate adds to the hothouse atmosphere.

• Bill McClaren describes the event as,"encapsulating all the really good things that the game has to offer. Splendid organisation, wonderful sporting spirit, universal camaraderie, admirable field behaviour, the most enjoyable crowd participation, (and) the chance for emergent rugby nations to lock horns with the mighty men of New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Wales, Scotland and the Barbarians." 

The team at Centurion will be visiting the Hong Kong Sevens this year - will you?