IRB Sevens World Series standings leaders New Zealand, second placed South Africa and defending Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens champions Samoa, plus many of the other top teams in the world are all now in Hong Kong, preparing their teams for the kick off which takes place later today.
The question many are aksing is whether anyone will be able to slow the Kiwi march to the IRB Sevens World Series title. After becoming the first team to ever win four consecutive tournaments in a single IRB Sevens World Series season, New Zealand top the standings on a daunting 80 points and have set the IRB Sevens World Series’ longest consecutive winning streak at 36 matches and counting.
The second placed team, South Africa, on 48 points in the IRB Sevens World Series standings, will be looking for a massive performance from try-scoring machine Fabian Juries and the rest of the squad to capture the expanded 30 points on offer to the Cup winners in Hong Kong (as the only 24-team event on the Series).
Fiji lie in 3rd place on the standings with 44 points whilst Argentina rounds out the top five with 26 points to date as the IRB Sevens World Series enters Hong Kong, the fifth of eight tournaments on this year’s schedule.
Attending today’s press conference were captain DJ Forbes of New Zealand – looking for his first Cup win in Hong Kong in three attempts; Neil Powell, captain of South Africa and Uale Mai, captain of Samoa. Also joining today’s press conference were IRB Tournament Operations Manger Beth Coalter, and Mr Allan Payne, Executive Director of the HKRFU.
Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU) Chairman Trevor Gregory welcomed the expected 120,000 visitors to the three-day event saying, “Last year we witnessed arguably the biggest and best Sevens to date. With record crowds of over 110,000 over the 3 days being entertained by some breathtaking rugby, culminating in an incredible final where Samoa ran out very worthy winners. The challenge for us is to make the 2008 event even better, and I’m happy to say that this year’s Sevens is shaping up to be one of the best yet.”
World Series leaders New Zealand return to Hong Kong with a stable squad that has afforded New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens the opportunity to field the same starting seven in each of the team’s four successful Cup finals to date this season. Among the players to watch in the New Zealand team is Victor Vito as he makes his Hong Kong debut having already tallied 20 tries on the circuit this year. Pooled with the United States, Tunisia and Chinese Taipei in Pool A, New Zealand should face a relatively easy build-up to the quarter finals.
In Pool B, Samoa enters the tournament as defending champions for the first time since 1994. The proud Pacific Island warriors of Manu Samoa will be buoyed by reaching the Cup final in the last event in Wellington as they attempt to defend the Hong Kong title. Samoa is currently in 4th place on the standings with 28 points. Other teams in Pool B include England, Canada and Sri Lanka.
At the top of Pool C, South Africa enter the Hong Kong Stadium without the team’s leading try scorer in Hong Kong, Marius Schoeman, but have drafted in two new flyers to round out the squad. South Africa is drawn with Argentina, Russia and Japan, offering a tantalizing battle among the IRB Sevens World Series all-time try-scoring legends Juries and the current leader Santiago Gomez-Cora of Argentina.
Gomez Cora, on 181 tries all-time, is well ahead of the chase pack, but Juries with 152 tries will be hoping to gain ground on the leader. Adding to the try-counting excitement inside the Stadium this weekend is the return of Ben Gollings for England, number three on the all-time try-scorers list with 152.
Headlining Pool D, Fiji makes its bid to become the first ten-time winners of the Hong Kong Sevens Cup. To help in this record bid, Fiji has returned some of its leading international players for the Hong Kong leg, including William Ryder and the hulking Marika Vunibaka – two linchpins of their success at the 2005 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Hong Kong.
Pool E sees Kenya face off against Scotland, Portugal and China, while the hometown side Hong Kong opens the tournament action at 1630 on Friday evening March 28 against Pool F leaders Australia. Also in Pool F are Tonga and France.
The Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens 2008 kicks-off today, 28 March, at 4:30pm with the hosts Hong Kong headlining the first match against Australia. The Tournament concludes on Sunday 30 March with the Cup Final to be held at 6:20pm.