Hong Kong Stadium throws open its doors to the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series for the second time this season on Friday.
The second Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens of the 2023 Series will be a momentous occasion as women join the bill for the first time.
Every match at the tournament will be streamed live on the Series website and World Rugby’s official YouTube channel.
Ahead of what promises to be another compelling weekend of action, we give you seven reasons why you should tune in.
History in the making
For the first time since the inception of the women’s Series in 2012, Hong Kong will host a joint tournament featuring the best male and female players in the world.
The landmark tournament had originally been scheduled to be played in April 2020, before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic led to its cancellation.
It means the likes of Charlotte Caslick, Michaela Blyde and Reapi Ulunisau will now get to run out at the iconic Hong Kong Stadium.
Hong Kong’s first women’s Series tournament will get underway at 12:16 local time (GMT+8) on Friday when France meet Pool C rivals Japan.
Black Ferns chase glory
Having secured their place at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games last time out in Vancouver, the Black Ferns Sevens arrive in Hong Kong with the Series title in their sights.
A fifth successive tournament victory – something no women’s side has ever done in a single season – would put New Zealand on the verge of wrapping up a seventh Series crown.
Were the Black Ferns to achieve that feat while Australia finish no higher than fourth and USA no higher than third, then the title would be theirs with a tournament to spare.
It would certainly be a fine way to mark the team’s 50th Series tournament and New Zealand head to Hong Kong in fine form, having won 24 matches in a row since losing the Cup final to Australia in Dubai last December.
Magic Maddison Levi closes on half century
Australia speedster Maddison Levi is enjoying a phenomenal season, averaging almost 1.5 tries per match, having crossed the whitewash 44 times in only 30 appearances.
In just her second season on the circuit, Levi is already up to fifth on the all-time list of female Australian Series try-scorers and has another milestone in her sights.
The 20-year-old has every chance of becoming only the second woman – after Portia Woodman (52) in 2015 – to score 50 Series tries in one season.
Levi’s Australia team-mate Charlotte Caslick, meanwhile, needs four tries at Hong Kong Stadium to become the fifth woman to touch down 150 times in the Series.
Australia, USA women on verge of Olympic qualification
One factor that might count against the Black Ferns Sevens’ hopes of wrapping up the women’s title in Hong Kong is that Australia and USA both need to pick up points this weekend.
Starting the tournament 14 and 16 points behind the leaders respectively, with only two events to play, the teams will know they each need a big performance to have any chance of overhauling New Zealand.
They will also know, though, that their Olympic qualification should be confirmed at Hong Kong Stadium this weekend.
Even if Fiji, who currently sit one place and 10 points outside of the qualification places, win the tournament Australia and USA would need only to reach the Cup quarter-finals to book their tickets to Paris.
Hong Kong crucial for men’s Olympic race
The contest for Olympic qualification from the men’s 2023 Series has been nip and tuck for much of the season, and it is finely poised with four of 11 tournaments left.
And with only 13 points separating Fiji and Australia – who currently occupy the third and fourth qualifying places – and ninth-placed USA in the standings, this weekend could be a decisive one in that regard.
The pool draw means that at least two of the current top eight teams in the standings will not make the Cup quarter-finals in Hong Kong, as Argentina, Fiji and Samoa play each other in Pool A and Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa compete in Pool D.
Nothing will be decided this weekend as too many points remain up for grabs in the remaining tournaments, but the race for a place in Paris could look very different come Sunday.
Hong Kong latest stop in competitive season
As the battle for a ticket to the Olympic Games would suggest, the men’s Series has been incredibly competitive in 2023.
That is a fact borne out by statistics, with 41 per cent of matches across the whole of the season being decided by seven points or fewer.
Those results, from the seven tournaments so far, have included a number of upsets, including wins for Uruguay against South Africa in Los Angeles and Fiji in Vancouver.
Who will provide the standout results at Hong Kong Stadium?
Uruguay treading water
Uruguay have sat just above the relegation play-off places in the men’s Series since the second tournament of the season in Dubai.
But despite encouraging results, the highlight of Los Teros Sevens’ campaign remains qualifying for the Cup quarter-finals in Cape Town and unlike Great Britain they have been unable to pull away from the teams below them.
Heading into Hong Kong, Uruguay are four points better off than 12th-placed Spain and five clear of Kenya in 13th. Their place in the 2024 Series is therefore far from secured.
SOURCE: WORLD RUGBY/PACNEWS