Pre-dating other marquee tournaments like the 15s and sevens versions of the Rugby World Cup and long before rugby sevens became part of the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens has rightly gained itself a reputation as one of the ‘must-see’ events in the sporting calendar.
With its high-octane rugby on the pitch and a festival of colour, noise and downright craziness off it, the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens has been a showstopping event like no other since it was first staged in 1976.
Until the pandemic struck, tourists, relatives visiting their Hong Kong-based loved ones, and business travellers would time their trips to sync with the tournament such is its appeal.
For three days in April, there is simply only one party in town in Hong Kong. And it is unlikely to be any different on 4-6 November, the rearranged date for this year’s postponed tournament, which will also signal the start of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 and qualification for the Paris Olympics in 2024.
Featuring the 15 core teams on the World Series plus Asian champions and the host nation, the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens should be well worth the wait.
Hong Kong have been drawn in a ‘Pool of Death’ with defending champions Australia, New Zealand and Samoa.
South Africa, France, and a combined Great Britain squad appearing in Hong Kong for the first time since the Baa-Baas Sevens sides of the early 1980s are joined by series debutants Uruguay in Pool B.
Defending Rugby World Cup Sevens world champions Fiji top Pool C – and are out to mark more milestones with six straight wins in Hong Kong. Out to stop them at the first hurdle are the USA, Spain and Japan.
Argentina and Ireland, who qualified for the World Series on their last outing in Hong Kong in 2019, are joined by Kenya and Canada in Pool D.
Fiji kick off their title defence in the fourth match of the day, against Japan, while newcomers Uruguay begin with a tough-looking fixture against 2022 Commonwealth Games gold medallists South Africa.
With more than 20,000 tickets sold and a real buzz of excitement about its return, the signs are that rugby’s love affair with Hong Kong has only grown stronger during its two-year absence.
This year, expect to see some innovative takes on PPE as the fans inside the ground, especially in the notoriously raucous South Stand, try to outdo each other with the lavishness and hilarity of their fancy dress.
Fun-loving World Rugby commentator and former New Zealand sevens star, Karl Te Nana, is one for whom the attraction of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens is obvious.
“Hong Kong is a must-see, it’s not only the Mecca for shopping but it's the original sevens party.
“With the excitement of the concerts pre-tournament to the goodness in the South Stand, everything is a happy time to be had.
“The city embraces and allows you to enjoy the tradition of past rugby legends as well as the current stars of rugby sevens.”
Like Te Nana, a two-time Hong Kong Sevens winner in 2000 and 2001, experienced sevens coach Damian McGrath appreciates the uniqueness of the event.
McGrath has coached England, Canada and Samoa in Hong Kong and will take Kenya there in a few weeks’ time, with the African entertainers having the honour of kicking off the tournament on 4 November against Ireland.
“Hong Kong Sevens is unique. It combines some of the best rugby you will ever see, sold-out crowds, and what seems to be a non-stop party – all set against the iconic backdrop of a famous skyline.
“It somehow has something for everyone. For the aficionado, the rugby and the stadium’s ability to generate and hold an atmosphere make it almost peerless in sporting events.
“For the casual follower or even the non-rugby person, the Hong Kong experience (shopping, sightseeing and eating) followed by a three-day extravaganza at the sevens will make it a trip you’ll never forget.”
Rite of passage
There is a saying in Hong Kong: “If you ever get bored of the sevens, you can turn around and watch the rugby.” Its reputation transcends the sport. “When I met her, my wife had never seen rugby before, but she had heard of the Hong Kong Sevens!” said England’s most-experienced HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series player, James Rodwell.
For Fijians, early Hong Kong Sevens tournaments gave their players a wider stage on which to show off their skills. Fiji won their first title in 1977 and have dominated since, including winning the last five titles on offer.
“It’s kind of a rite of passage for us Fijians, we grew up watching legends of the game playing here,” said 2016 Olympic Games gold medal-winning captain Osea Kolinisau.
Wales captain Luke Treharne has travelled all over the world playing sevens but says Hong Hong is on another level as a venue.
"The energy in the stadium for Friday evening games is potentially the best atmosphere in a rugby ground, ever," he said.
"The city is incredible to explore and the stadium on match days just looks amazing tucked away in the valley."
Sports fans can debate with the best of them but, when it comes to rugby, an agreement can be reached that the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens is definitely a bucket-list event.