The world-famous Hong Kong skyline provided the backdrop as captains of the 28 men’s and women’s teams gathered ahead of the Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens which kicks off on Friday, 31 March.
The tournament marks the eighth round in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 in the men’s competition, including the second time in Hong Kong after the opening tournament in November, along with the sixth stop for the women.
For the first time in the event’s 46-year history, the top 12 women’s nations, including invitational side Hong Kong China, are set to join the men’s Series for a thrilling three-day competition in front of an expected crowd of more than 100,000 rugby, sports and entertainment fans over the weekend.
Hong Kong China women’s captain Melody Li said: “It’s really a big and meaningful occasion for us playing for our first time on the World Series on our home ground with the men’s team. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and hopefully we can inspire more young girls to play rugby in Hong Kong.
“I first attended the Hong Kong Sevens in high school in 2012 as a liaison officer for Australia, and I was hoping that one day I could play in the stadium, but I never knew it I’d get the chance, so I’m really happy.”
The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 continues to be the most competitive season yet with the prize of Olympic Games Paris 2024 qualification on offer for the top four women’s and men’s teams in the 2023 Series standings. Hosts France have pre-qualified for next year’s pinnacle event in the nation’s capital.
The men’s Series has seen five different winners (Australia, Samoa, South Africa, Argentina and New Zealand) through the opening seven tournaments. New Zealand, who won in Sydney and Los Angeles, currently sit atop the Series standings with 120 points, followed by Argentina (108), who won the last stop at the HSBC Canada Sevens along with Hamilton, closely trailed by Vancouver runners-up France with 95 points and Fiji and Australia are both tied with 94 points with just four events to go.
In the men’s competition, Vancouver champions Argentina slot into Pool A alongside Fiji, Samoa and Canada while HSBC Canada Sevens runners-up France headline Pool B with Great Britain, Uruguay and hosts Hong Kong China.
HSBC Canada Sevens bronze medallists Australia will face off against USA, Spain and Japan in Pool C while Ireland will meet Series leaders New Zealand, Kenya and Dubai winners South Africa in Pool D.
The stakes couldn’t be higher at the bottom end of the men’s Series this season as well.
Following the penultimate event in Toulouse, the 15th ranked team will be relegated, while the 12th through 14th ranked teams will face-off against the Sevens Challenger Series 2023 winner for the 12th and final position on the 2024 Series.
The women’s Series has seen five tournaments, compared to seven for the men, with New Zealand sitting firmly on top of the standings with 98 points having won the last four tournaments in Cape Town, Hamilton, Sydney and Vancouver.
In Vancouver the Black Ferns became the first team to book their spot at Paris 2024. Australia, the only other nation to have won a tournament in Dubai, sit two points ahead of USA on 84 points. The Women’s Sevens Eagles join New Zealand as the only nation to have medalled at every event this season, while France picked up their first bronze medal in Sydney.
Following New Zealand in Vancouver, Australia and USA women can officially qualify for Paris 2024 in Hong Kong if they reach the quarter-finals.
The women’s pools see Series leaders New Zealand in Pool A alongside Canada, Great Britain and invitational team Hong Kong China in Pool A.
Vancouver runners-up Australia will take on Fiji, Ireland and Brazil in Pool B while Pool C sees USA with France, Japan and Spain.
USA Olympian Lauren Doyle said: “We as a team know that we can qualify this weekend and it’s in the background, but we have stuck true to our process this whole season which has gotten us medals at every event so for us it’s important to stay true to our process.
“To qualify this weekend would be immensely exciting. It would be a huge stresser off of us but we can’t look past the weekend and we need to get our work done.”
The actions kicks off on Friday, 31 March at 12:16 local time (GMT+8) with France v Japan in the women’s tournament, with the men getting underway at 14:40 with New Zealand v Kenya.
All teams across the men’s and women’s competitions will play two pool matches on day one, followed by their final pool match and the first knockout game on day two and the final two knockout games on Sunday, including the women’s and men’s Cup finals at 19:40 and 20:15 respectively.
SOURCE: WORLD RUGBY/PACNEWS