From coaching clinics to concerts to celebrity chefs, this year’s Hong Kong Sevens truly does have something for everyone. Henry Benjamin reports.
Hong Kongers can expect a full week of entertainment in the lead-up to the Hong Kong Sevens, as the event continues to grow and evolve. Of course there is also the rugby, with the sport of sevens becoming ever more popular on the back of its successful debut at last year’s Rio Olympics.
Hong Kong is credited for playing a big role in sevens becoming an Olympic sport and for good reason, with by far the biggest tournament on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series showing no signs of slowing down.
Again Hong Kong will roll out both men’s and women’s teams during the weekend of April 7 to 9, while local favourites Fiji will be sure to put on a show.
The Hong Kong Sevens has long been known for its aility to attract people from far and wide, many more interested in the party than the actual rugby. This year more than ever, the event caters to all, with HK Sevens Central set to light up Chater Garden for the entire week.
Kicking off on April 3, there will be coaching sessions for the kids run by a host of famous ex-players. On top of this, the teams competing in the sevens will visit Chater Garden during the week, giving fans the chance to meet and interact with their heroes. There is plenty on offer for the big kids too, with HK Sevens Central transforming into an entertainment hub as the sun goes down. There will be a range of bands and dance performances, as well as a melting pot of food and beverage options.
Come the weekend, Sevens in the City kicks off in Chater Garden for those without a ticket to the stadium, with a big screen showing the live action from whistle to whistle. If that isn’t enough, music fans are in for a treat at the kick-off concert on April 6, with renowned UK bands Madness and From the Jam the headline acts.
DB kids in on the act
As they have done for years, kids from the Discovery Bay Pirates will get the chance to run out on the hallowed turf of Hong Kong Stadium at various stages of the weekend. There will be a number of DB and Lantau kids playing in the youth teams, as well as in the national age- grade showcase games.
One long-time DB resident who knows all about the thrill of playing at the stadium on Hong Kong Sevens weekend is 18-year-old Mark Coebergh. Now playing for Bloomberg HK Scottish in the senior Hong Kong Premiership, Mark played for the Pirates for six years and says he learnt plenty from the opportunity to play at the international event.
“It’s pretty cool to run out on the same pitch as all the best professionals,” Mark says. “It was good, a little bit of a taste of the skill needed to play in that huge stadium. It was extremely tiring; it’s a lot bigger than playing on a normal pitch in Hong Kong.”
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Mark moved to DB at the age of 10 and while he is currently boarding at his university in Kowloon Tong, his family are all still in DB. He studied at YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College in Tung Chung and, as part of Hong Kong’s under-20 elite rugby programme, he has high hopes for his future in rugby.
“I’d love to play in the Hong Kong Sevens and if in the future I could qualify for the Olympics that would be pretty amazing,” he says. “I want to play rugby for as long as I can, until I’m an old man.”
A member of the Hong Kong team that won the Asia Rugby U-19 Championship in December, Mark is also engaged with Hong Kong’s senior men’s team and feels he is edging closer to cracking a senior debut in the 15-a-side format. “I’m working hard to get there and I’m hoping it’s not too far off,” he says.
The big stage
At the end of the day, there is still nothing like being at Hong Kong Stadium on Sunday evening when the rugby reaches the business end and the big boys start to get serious. Rio Olympics gold medallist Fiji loves nothing more than a trip to Hong Kong, with the Pacific Islanders taking out four of the last five tournaments at the spiritual home of sevens. However, so far this year they haven’t been quite at their brilliant best, with South Africa the team to watch.
England has been the surprise packet over the opening six rounds of the series, riding high on the silver-medal success of Great Britain in Rio. At the other end of the scale, Australia has been a bit off pace due to a number of injuries to key players, while Scotland and Japan will be looking for improved showings in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong will again be looking to earn a spot on the World Series in the qualifying tournament after falling short at the final hurdle last year, going down to Japan in the decider. They’ll come up against a number of tricky opponents, with Spain, Germany and Sri Lanka all sure to provide headaches for the local side.
The women’s competition will again feature a number of quality teams, with the likes of Japan and South Africa heading our way. The Hong Kong ladies team lost in the semi-finals at home last year, but will be hoping to go one better and feature in the final in the main stadium this April.
Players to watch
There is no doubting Fiji are the masters of the condensed format, with players like captain Osea Kolinisau and the dynamic Jerry Tuwai capable of jaw-dropping things on a rugby field. South Africa’s Roscko Speckman and Cecil Afrika are worth the price of admission alone, as are former sprinters Perry Baker and Carlin Isles in the US team.
On top of that, you can bet Australian young gun Henry Hutchison, England try-machine Dan Norton, Kiwi Dylan Collier and Kenyan Collins Injera will have the crowd on their feet at some point over the weekend.
Hong Kong’s men are constantly on the improve and have a number of line-breakers in their squad, with veteran Salom Yiu Kam-shing still at the top of his game and Ryan Meacheam and captain Max Woodward also sure to excite. In the Hong Kong women’s team, speedster Chong Ka-yan and winger Aggie Poon Pak-yan are constant scoring threats, who are always looking to keep the opposition on its toes.