HAWKEYE VIEW: THE GRAND DADDY

Thu, 26 Mar 2015 09:10
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EXCLUSIVE: RUGBY365 COLUMNIST MATT HAWKINS LOOKS AT WHAT HE CALLS THE GRAND DADDY OF ALL SEVENS TOURNAMENTS - HONG KONG!

We are less than 24 hours away from the Grand Daddy of it all.

The Hong Kong Sevens, which is the brightest shining star of all the events on the Sevens World Series and to top it all off, it's celebrating its 40th year.

My love affair with the Hong Kong Sevens started along time ago.

Back in 1990, so yes 25 years ago, my father travelled to the epic event and brought back with him tales of wonder and amazement of just how incredible the rugby was, the island itself was and the majestic setting that is the Hong Kong football stadium and last but not least the bewilderment of just how enthralling the South stand was.

As he sifted through his bag on his return I waited eagerly for my surprise. The token from my dad, to say, 'sorry for being away'.

To my delight, the first item he pulled from his bag was an official Hong Kong Sevens mini replica rugby ball, which would see hours and hours of time in our backyard games. The other was a VHS with highlights from tournaments passed.

I popped in the VHS and so the fairytale began.

This rugby was unlike any other I had ever seen. The players creating and displaying movement and skill I had only heard about when ruggers around the table would talk about the old French flair of yesteryear.

This rugby had rhythm, it flowed and it mesmerized, but in the same light there was true brutality and the hitting and physical nature of some of the encounters was pure carnage, but you could not help to watch.

It was 18 years later when I had the privilege of arriving in Hong Kong for the first time.

I remember it so vividly.

The stadium was like a coliseum carved in to the side of a mountain in the middle of a bustling metropolis.
 
The setting was majestic, the crowd was sublime and the atmosphere was electric.

This tournament is all go every second - from the rugby, to the city, to the party - it never switches off.

The build-up is like a massive groundswell that starts a few days out and reaches magnitude that first evening that is not rivaled by any other sporting event I have ever attended.

What makes it so?

A few things, the first is that it started 40 years ago, which is an incredible achievement and one that rivals some of the biggest and more global sporting events in the world.

It has so much of the corporate and expatriot community intertwined with it, that it's in your face from sun up to sun down and the world travels to this event.

The competition has gone through multiple scenarios as far as the actual competition and schedule, but most notably it has for a long time run over three days - having Friday night as the opening act and then building through the weekend until the final 20 minutes on Sunday.

Each team plays a game on the Friday night and then they complete there next two pool games on Day Two, Saturday, and then its all up for grabs on Day Three with knock-out and trophy rounds.

The format this year is one that has a competitive bracket and that is the competition, which features on the Sevens World Series and then there is a qualifier bracket.

The competitive bracket houses the 15 core teams that travel to all of the nine World Series events with one Wild Card team to make up the 16 teams.

This year that team is Belgium. It's going to be an incredible adventure for those players and they'll have stories that will be told to their grandkids' grandkids.

At the end of the year when the World Series comes to an end in London, the 15th place team will be relegated and the winner of the qualifier bracket is moved up and gets to compete as one of the core teams the following year.

The 12 teams that have put themselves in a position to compete, for that coveted spot are: Hong Kong, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, Tunisia, Spain, Zimbabwe, Tonga and Guyana.

Last year Japan won its way to the top and unseated Spain as a core team. Its always a thrilling encounter in this qualification bracket as each team has worked so hard to get themselves here and it's a bounce of a ball that can take all that away from them in a heart beat.

In the competitive bracket we have our standard four pools of four teams that play three pool games and then are seeded in to the top eight and bottom eight and they play from there.

This promises to be a fabulous weekend, with expectations for every team rising at this tournament, as a player in a team that wins this event, you've done it. You've climbed the mountain and you staked your claim at the top of it. This is the pinnacle event on the Sevens World Series.

This is an iconic tournament with signature moments that create legends and kings that live on years and decades after gracing the sacred hallows that is the Hong Kong Football Stadium.

By Matt Hawkins
@polarbearkzn
@rugby365com

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