Crowd of sports fans cheering on their team

Celebrating the Rugby Sevens: 7 memorable moments from Hong Kong’s Rugby Sevens

On 31 March 2023, Hong Kong’s Sevens rugby tournament – the Sevens – returns to its usual spring slot.

Having returned at the end of 2022 after a three-and-a-half-year Covid break, 2023’s event, the second competition in just five months, will see full-capacity crowds return to Hong Kong stadium.

More than 30,000 ticket sales are expected for the event that Chris Brooke, the Hong Kong Rugby Union chairman, recently told the South China Morning Post was bringing back a “sense of positivity and morale” to the region.

William Pollock McLaren CBE (16 October 1923 – 19 January 2010) was a Scottish rugby union commentator, teacher, journalist, and one time rugby player. Known as “the voice of rugby”, in his autobiography ‘Talking of Rugby’, he writes at length about his Hong Kong Sevens experiences:

“I remember a big South Sea islander saying that, in his view, the Hong Kong sevens were really the Olympic games of Rugby Union. Certainly, the Hong Kong event encapsulates 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, the chance for emergent rugby nations to lock horns with the mighty men of New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Wales, Scotland and the Barbarians. There is, too, scintillating running and handling which is what the game is supposed to be all about.”

Rugby fans and tourists from all over the world will soon descend on Hong Kong. But before they do, there’s just time to look back at some of the most memorable moments from past Hong Kong Sevens tournaments.

1. 26 March 2000: The Fiji v New Zealand final

Fiji and New Zealand are ranked first and second, respectively, on the all-time standings and have dominated the tournament since it became the most prestigious leg of the World Rugby Sevens Series.

23 years ago, the All Blacks – featuring all-time greats Amasio Raoma, Eric Rush and Mils Muliaina – conceded in the first minute of the final but refused to roll over. Instead, they came back with five unanswered tries, with Justin Wilson, Tony Monaghan, and Craig De Goldi all crossing the try line.

They eventually racked up 31 points against the defending champion’s 5. The win marked New Zealand’s fourth win of the series and was instrumental in seeing them lift the trophy in that inaugural year.

2. November 4-6, 2022: The post-Covid return

Throughout its history, there have been very few years when a tournament hasn’t taken place. Until, that is, the coronavirus pandemic. After a three-and-a-half-year absence, the tournament returned in November 2022.

Despite restrictions meaning the stadium was at just 85% capacity, and face-coverings in and outside the stands, the tournament stood as a testament to the resilience of global sport and its fans.

Rules around group sizes, and when and where spectators could eat – not to mention the legacy of the virus itself – meant that it was a tournament like no other.

And yet, for Sevens fans, the joy of being back in front of live sport more than made up for it.

3. 30 March 2003: England retains the title

The All Blacks Sevens followed up their 2000 win by retaining the title the following year.

After that, though, it was the turn of the English to win a hat-trick of titles. Their middle run, in 2003, was arguably their best.

Despite trailing 12-5 to New Zealand at half-time in the final, an early converted try saw the English draw level early in the second half. In stepped then-Saracen’s regular Richard Haughton with a further two – albeit unconverted – tries to eventually secure a 22-17 victory.

4. 29 March 2009: The South Africa v Fiji final

Another tight final came in 2009, with Fiji trying – and ultimately managing – to claim a sixth consecutive title.

They had faced little opposition all tournament and managed to build a 19-0 lead before the South Africans fought back to close the gap to just seven points at the break.

Seremaia Burotu’s score early in the second half took Fiji to 26 points, and despite another comeback from the South Africans, it proved too wide a margin to close. Fiji took the crown by two points.

5. 24 March 2013: Wales make their first series final

It took until 2013 for Wales to reach a Series tournament final, but when they did, it led to an epic clash against Fiji.

Wales had beaten Australia and Kenya (among others) to reach the marquee match and stormed to a 19-0 lead, thanks in part to two tries from the Cardiff Blues’ Cory Allen.

The win wasn’t to be, however. In the second half, the Fijians staged a comeback. Back to full strength after a first-half sin bin, Fiji rocketed to a memorable 26-19 win.

6. 7 April 2019: France faces New Zealand in a tense quarter-final

France had never beaten New Zealand in Hong Kong when they faced them in the quarter-finals stage of the 2019 tournament.

The All Blacks Sevens were the first to trouble the scorers but France fought back to go into half-time 14-5 ahead.

France eventually held on for a 14-12 win.

They went on to beat Samoa in the semi-finals, while Fiji clashed with the USA to set up a France-Fiji final.

The Fijians ultimately won the tournament, beating France (21-7) into the runner-up spot. France’s quarter-final win remains a historic, and memorable victory.

7. 31 March 2023: The Women’s Rugby Sevens returns

As full-capacity crowds return to the stadium for the 2023 tournament, everything is in place for one of the most memorable competitions in Hong Kong Rugby Sevens’ history.

Alongside the crowds, the women’s competition is also making a comeback.

The team of Hong Kong China (playing side by side for the first time) will compete against 11 other women’s teams, from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Fiji, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, and the USA.

Competing since 1997, this year’s Women’s tournament embodies the Hong Kong Rugby Union theme of “Play On!”, increasing visibility for the women’s game and hopefully inspiring thousands of young women and girls to try the sport for the first time.

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