Round Seven of the IRB Sevens World Series will see South Africa and New Zealand – the current pace setters – glance nervously over their shoulders at the hard-chasing Fijians.
However, for the second year running Hong Kong welcomes 28 teams – with 16 to play for the famous old Cup trophy and points towards the World Series, and the other 12 bidding to win the separate qualifier trophy and take the one place on offer as a core team for the 2014/15 Series.
In the main Cup draw, with two tournament wins apiece in this season’s IRB Sevens World Series, South Africa, New Zealand and Fiji are the front-runners for major Cup honours at So Kon Po.
Fiji have won 14 times in Hong Kong, including last year, and also took the most recent Cup title with a superb win over South Africa at the Tokyo Sevens last Sunday.
South Africa have never won the Hong Kong title, but are currently top of the Series standings with 116 points, two ahead of New Zealand – with Fiji in third place on 95 and England fourth on 85.
Having finished in the top two of Asia’s own regional Sevens competition, host Hong Kong is one of those 12 vying nations and harbours serious ambition to join the Series.
“There’s a long way to go but qualifying as a core team would accelerate the learning in Hong Kong by playing at that competitive level more often,” said Hong Kong’s Sevens coach Gareth Baber
“It would also accelerate the numbers coming into the game, and make them realise as well that there’s a potential to be an international athlete playing Rugby Sevens for Hong Kong,” Baber added.
Hong Kong start in pool play with matches against Italy, Tunisia and American Samoa. Russia are drawn with Zimbabwe, China and Barbados, while Asia’s top-ranked side Japan starts in a group with Cook Islands, Uruguay and Trinidad & Tobago.
“We have to treat this like any other event. I know there’s a lot of emotion wrapped around it, and there’s a big party atmosphere, but the message going out loud and clear to the players is that we need consistency in what we do and not to get carried away with the emotion.
“You need to play with emotion as a rugby player, but it’s tempering that with the ability to think clearly and do consistently what you do on the training paddock.
“I’m confident my players can make that step up (from failing to qualify as a core team last year), but there are a number of other teams who are going to be thinking exactly the same. We have a competition on our hands, and that’s why everyone is interested in it.”
Pool A: Fiji, Kenya, Wales, Sri Lanka
Pool B: South Africa, Australia, France, Spain
Pool C: England, Canada, Argentina, Portugal
Pool D: New Zealand, United States, Scotland, Samoa
(Kick-off is local time – GMT plus eight hours)
Day One – Friday, March 28
Match 1: United States v Samoa, 18.24
Match 2: Canada v Portugal, 18.46
Match 3: Australia v Spain, 19.08
Match 4: Kenya v Sri Lanka, 19.30
Match 5: New Zealand v Scotland, 20.20
Match 6: England v Argentina, 20.42
Match 7: South Africa v France, 21.04
Match 8: Fiji v Wales, 21.26
Match 9: New Zealand v Samoa, 11.12
Match 10: United States v Scotland, 11.34
Match 11: England v Portugal, 11.56
Match 12: Canada v Argentina, 12.18
Match 13: South Africa v Spain, 12.40
Match 14: Australia v France, 13.02
Match 15: Fiji v Sri Lanka, 13.24
Match 16: Kenya v Wales, 13.46
Match 17: Scotland v Samoa, 15.14
Match 18: Argentina v Portugal, 15.36
Match 19: France v Spain, 15.58
Match 20: Wales v Sri Lanka, 16.20
Match 21: New Zealand v United States, 18.10
Match 22: England v Canada, 18.32
Match 23: South Africa v Australia, 18.54
Match 24: Fiji v Kenya, 19.16
World Series core team qualifier
Pool E: Russia, Zimbabwe, Chile, Barbados
Pool F: Hong Kong, Italy, Tunisia, American Samoa
Pool G: Japan, Cook Islands, Uruguay, Trinidad & Tobago