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Thread: All rise for Hong Kong

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    All rise for Hong Kong

    As we rush up to the Hong Kong Sevens, here is a preview from the IRB's website:

    All rise for Hong Kong

    26 APRIL 2007
    By Nigel Starmer-Smith, c/o IRB


    Just about the perfect scenario! The half way point in the IRB Sevens World Series - four tournaments played, four to go, four different Cup winners so far: South Africa, New Zealand, Samoa, and Fiji.

    Still missing from that line-up, the nation which won three titles last year and which will be bidding for a fifth Hong Kong Sevens in a row, England. And, in this 24-nation Hong Kong tournament there are 30 points on offer to the winners towards the overall Series title (as opposed to 20 for the other events) so this annual spectacular has a special - and perhaps even decisive - significance.

    No longer is the world of Sevens supremacy a two-team club dominated by New Zealand and Fiji, between them winners of 18 of the first 25 Hong Kong events, all seven IRB circuits and six of the seven World Cup and Commonwealth Games titles. A third of the competing nations in Hong Kong have enjoyed the experience of standing atop the winner's podium at an IRB tournament and no Sevens contest will be more fiercely competitive than the one that is about to take place.

    Tight at the top

    Fiji, on the back of their last outing in San Diego, may enter as deserving favourites but closer inspection shows the marginal difference these days between success and near-success.

    In the Cup quarter-final they beat South Africa in extra time, 26-21, four tries to three; in the semi it was three tries to two over New Zealand and only in the final did the islanderes really cut loose. Even then Samoa pegged them back to a losing margin of four tries to six.

    The week before, in Wellington, it was Samoa who showed the world how to contain the brilliance of the skilled Fijians by taking them on full frontal, up close and very personal, squeezing them for space, hitting them hard in defence and forcing the errors. Samoa were unrelenting and took their first crown 17-14.

    Earlier South Africa had taken the Dubai title and New Zealand had broken Bok hearts in George, all of Which basically goes to show that never has the outcome of a tournament been less predictable than this one!

    So what can we look forward to? The intensity and thrill of the entire three days to start with as the world of rugby comes together from every continent in meaningful international competiton. Whether it's Fiji-England, Japan-China or - as it will be for the very first time - Tunisia against the United States, each and every nation will be competitive.

    The sorceror and the apprentice

    We can roll back the years and watch Waisale Serevi deploying his troops like an impatient general - alas anno domini have nearly caught up with him! - marvel at the skills of William Ryder, 14 years his junior, leaving class players grasping at thin air. He may know he's good but because, in fact, he is that good I can for once accept the white boots.. And then at the other end of the physical spectrum there's that man mountain Semisi Naevo. Plus apparently they've now added someone even bigger to the squad in Semisi Serevi (no relative). The mind boggles.

    There's Simon Amor, England's ever-present captain. A little Napoleon bidding for England's - and his own - fifth consecutive victory in front of his favourite 'home' crowd - albeit knowing he faces a battle to defy the odds with depleted resources and without long time half-back partner Ben Gollings there to help him. No one could give more than Simon to the cause, though, and watch out ,too, for newly qualified Damudamu and young centre Jack Adams.

    If black is your colous watch out for the next tranche of future internationals emanating from the black conveyor-belt operated by the sevens coach supreme, Gordon Tietjens. How great a contribution he, and New Zealand sevens itself, has made to All Black success is not universely recognized, but begin with Rush, Muliaina, Lomu and Rokocoko and come bang up to date with Gear and Toeava and then spot the next ones on the horizon in the likes of Corey Jane, Tamati Ellison and Liam Messam. Keep an eye, too, on Zar Lawrence, Afeleke Pelenise, Nigel Hunt and Solomon King.

    Beware the Springbok

    For quick finishers South africa field a hatful, notably newcomer Howard Noble plus Mzwandile Stick and the balanced artist Ryno Benjamin. There's also the promised return of Stefan Basson, Fabien Juries and Tobela Mdaka, all more than capable on their day of pushing the Boks up into top spot.

    Samoa's strength is just that - their strength. Out of proportion with their size, you know when you've been tackled, and for vision and tactical acumen Uale Mai is amongst the very best. Add to the mix two players who might hold the key to success in Lolo Lui and Mikaele Pesamino, the latter of which has already caught the eye of more than one European club scout, and you jjsy never know..

    A successful team usually has a cornerstone - a creator or scorer, or both - an Amasio Raoma Valence, an Amor, a Mai or a Serevi and those players exist equally amongst those sides who may not reach, or perhaps even aspire to be in, the Cup Final. For Portugal that man is Pedro Leal, for Scotland it's currently Mark Robertson, for France Patrick Bosque and for Australia the hard-working Tim Atkinson.

    Quality throughout

    Among the Asian sides look out for Japan's key playmaker Nathan Ashley, for Tonga look to Tevita Tu'ifua and for Canada a new recruit has adopted that role in Phil Mack. Tunisia's Lotfi Nino is a game breaker, as is - of course - the all time leading IRB Sevens try scorer, Santiago Gomez Cora, property of mis-firing Argentina.

    This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is these players who make things happen and ultimately whom I most admire. And there's one man who perhaps takes that role to the highest level of all within the context of his national squad. A clue here! ... The man who has scored more points and more tries than any other in the history of the Hong Kong Sevens. None other than China's Zhang Zhiqiang. With 185 points and 23 tries since his first appearance here in 2002, he just as much as the others, is deserving of our respect and attention at whatever level of the competition.

    So there's the rugby to look forward to. What else? The long week-end party, the terrific stadium, the welcoming multi-national atmosphere, the Dragon dance, the clockwork organisation, the 'men in the middle' who take charge and finally the camaraderie that exists like an unparalleled phenomenon in this sport. All in all not a bad place to be for a few days.

    My tip for the title? Well - with no confidence whatsoever - Fiji to win the Cup and Wales to create at least one almighty upset.

    Australia is in Pool F and will get underway against Tunisia at 21:00 Local on Day 1 (30/03/07).
    On Day 2 we have USA at 12:20 and the final match of the day at 18:56 against France.
    Day 3 will be a full program of Finals with contenders for the Bowl, Plate and Cup.

    0 Not allowed! Not allowed!
    "Bloody oath we did!"

    Nathan Sharpe, Legend.

  2. #2
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    Dry July! Ex-Staff MO-vember Donator TWF Contributor!
    now that's an InnForcers Tour we gotta do one year

    0 Not allowed! Not allowed!

    Exile
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    I stopped waiting for the light at the end of tunnel and lit that bitch up myself!

  3. #3
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    Was thinking that too Ex!
    Perhaps a good way to make sure the SA and NZ potential Tours don't see the same teams/cities each trip?
    With three years/destinations it would ensure a rotation.
    I'm sure Bails would sort us out for contacts and with $25 RugbyWA Membership there are reciprocal rights with the Hong Kong Football Club too!

    0 Not allowed! Not allowed!
    "Bloody oath we did!"

    Nathan Sharpe, Legend.

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