Around the world, a handful of sporting events transcend their sport. 

Tennis has Wimbledon. Golf has the Masters. Cycling, the Tour de France. And rugby sevens has Hong Kong

The history of these great sporting occasions gives them an aura and excitement grows each year in anticipation of the new chapters waiting to be written. Every player wants to win them and every fan wants to experience the action live. 

For a lot of players, winning in Hong Kong is like winning Olympic gold. It’s an incredible tournament and I loved every time that I got to play there. 

But what does a week in Hong Kong look like for the players? 

The weekend before

It all starts with an epic plane landing. You see the city for the first time dotted among the islands. You can follow the lights from the airport to see the Macau highway disappear under the ocean. As the plane touches down, you know you’ve arrived somewhere special. 

The first port of call is the hotel. Your biggest enemies aren’t the teams you’ll face on the pitch, but the jetlag and stiffness from the long flight alongside your nutrition and hydration levels throughout the week. Get these wrong, and you’ll stand little chance of lifting the trophy at the end of the tournament. 

In Hong Kong, teams are looked after very well. I’ve spoken to many people who find it strange that rival teams share a hotel during the week but it is always very amicable and most players are fierce competitors on the pitch but good friends off it. 

Teams travel with 13 players, split into rooms of two with the captain often getting the luxury – or curse – of a single room. Every player hopes for a room with a view of the harbour where you can see the buildings and mountains rising from the shoreline. 

Most teams take this opportunity to jump into the pool to get the muscles and joints moving again after sitting for hours on a plane. 


Monday brings the first day of training, which normally consists of a light upper-body gym session either at the hotel or in one of many gyms dotted around the city, followed by a rugby session at one of Hong Kong’s iconic pitches. 

I still remember the first day I walked up from underneath the Happy Valley Racecourse to be greeted by a pristine set of sports fields surrounded by a colosseum of skyscrapers and peaks. I was in complete awe and spent the majority of the session just looking up and around at my surroundings.  

Then it’s back to the hotel for the first of many ice baths during the week. After refuelling, players jump on the laptops to review the day’s training and look at the opposition’s past footage. 

Most teams split their players into review groups covering attack, defence and kick-offs. Early in the week, these groups will present their work to the rest of the team for discussion. This work started many weeks before arriving in Hong Kong, so only small tweaks and clarifications are needed. 


Tuesday is the heaviest day of training with a lower-body session in the gym. This typically involves power movements like jumps and Olympic lifts. From here, teams can play ‘semi-opposed’ games against one of the other teams not in their group. 

These games aim to get players up to match speed at near-maximum effort. They are intended to be games of ‘grab’ but inevitably turn into full contact once someone keeps running through a tackle. They can be very feisty sessions … but also some of the most fun and memorable. 

Then it’s a repeat of rehydrating, ice bath, refuelling and reviewing the day’s training. Hong Kong’s climate is very humid and requires players to consume a mixture of water and electrolytes to replace those lost in sweat. Even small dips in hydration can have a huge impact on performance. 

After the hardest day of training, making the right choices at the hotel buffet is paramount. Food is normally served in two-to-three-hour windows for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s of exceptional quality and is always a nice blend of world food and local cuisine. Dumplings and Cantonese-style barbecued pork called Char Sui are favourites in Hong Kong. 

In the evenings, players have time to see a physiotherapist or masseur to help prime the body ready for the weekend’s actions. 


Most teams are given a day off – which poses a conundrum for each squad. There’s a fine balance between the excitement of exploring a new bustling city and spending too much time on your feet in the hot sun. Most teams limit themselves to one or two activities so they don’t drain the batteries. 

Hong Kong has endless attractions, from the markets to the beaches. Riding the tram to the peak, the gondola to the Big Buddha, or across the harbour on the star ferry are three favourites. 

They aren’t complete days off though, as head coaches use the time to speak to the players on their individual games and how they can best contribute to the team on the weekend. There is normally a photo shoot with all of the captains during the day at an iconic venue around the city. 


Teams normally have a last training session together, called a captain’s run, where the aim is to fine-tune your plays and kick-offs. Then teams have the chance to visit the stadium and see the facilities available on the weekend. 

Towards the end of the week, there is often time to kill but also the need to keep your feet up. Most teams do this with a trip to a local coffee shop and endless games of cards. 

In the evening, players are presented with their jerseys and the team for the first game is named. Often teams invite a guest speaker to give a talk and hand out the jerseys. I have fond memories of visiting the St David’s Society in Hong Kong, with Warren Gatland presenting our jerseys one year. 

Tournament weekend

Friday signals the business end of the week. Riding the bus to the stadium among the traffic and people in fancy dress adds to the experience. 

Excitement and nerves start to build. The key to a successful weekend is being able to ride this wave of emotions, getting up for the warm-ups and then coming straight down after games to conserve physical and mental energy. 

Standing in the tunnel for the first time gave me goosebumps. Adrenaline levels are high but you must maintain focus on the task ahead. There are plenty of distractions but the last thing I would always say to myself was, 'Be in the moment, go and have fun'.

You run out of the tunnel, the crowd goes wild, you blink and the game is over. So much happens in such a short time – but hopefully you’ve come out on the winning side. 

Regardless of your last result, the post-game checklist runs the same: a hot debrief as a team, a few minutes spin on an exercise bike while rehydrating, a dip in an ice bath, recovery leggings on, refuel at the stadium dining room, watch your game back on the laptop, then your next opponents' most recent match, before a full team meeting. If there’s still time after this you could try to grab a quick nap. 

These measures aim to maintain your energy levels for as long as possible so you can perform on the pitch. Each morning of the tournament they get a little harder as you wake up sore and fatigued. Sevens players are well-prepped for this with their training but it takes mental resilience to go again and again.  

Hopefully, all this effort leads to success as a team and advancing well into the tournament. The first priority is the team’s performance, then your own – and the icing on the cake is still having a little bit of energy to head into town for a few drinks before flying home the following morning.