The 2019 Hong Kong Sevens takes place from April 5th to 7th. Read our preview to learn about the teams and players to watch at this world-famous event.
The 2019 Hong Kong Sevens takes place from April 5th to 7th, bringing some of the fastest, fittest and most skilful rugby players on the planet to the Hong Kong Stadium. Read our preview to find out all you need to know about this world-famous event.
What is it?
In a nutshell, it's the jewel in the crown of the World Rugby Sevens Series. One of Asia's most popular sporting events, it was first held between 12 teams in front of 3,000 fans at Hong Kong Football Club back in 1976.
It's come a long way over the last four decades, with 120,000 spectators now flocking to the stadium to watch the cream of the sevens world contest a three-day festival of rugby.
Today, the Hong Kong Sevens is the seventh stop of the 2019 World Rugby Sevens Series. Fifteen 'core' national teams compete at each event, alongside a 16th invitational side.
What are they competing for?
As with all other World Series tournaments, the 16 sides at the Hong Kong Sevens used to battle it out for four different trophies - the Cup, Plate, Bowl and Shield. This slightly confusing system was axed ahead of the 2016-17 season, to be replaced with gold, silver and bronze medals for the top three teams.
Now, the top two teams in the pool stage progress to the Cup competition and a chance to win gold, with the lower-ranked teams contesting the Challenge Trophy. It means that every Sevens Series event now ends with the following five matches, in reverse order:
So who's going to win?
If the history books are any guide, there's only going to be one winner. Fiji have lifted the Hong Kong Sevens Cup a record 18 times down the years - seven more than their nearest rivals, New Zealand. They won last year's Hong Kong Sevens with a 24-12 defeat of surprise finalists Kenya, and have triumphed at six of the last seven tournaments.
After a slow start to the current season, Fiji won the next two events in Cape Town and Hamilton. But their form has been patchy since then, with only a third-place finish in Vancouver to show for their last three outings.
New Zealand - who, for those who aren't aware, are pretty good at rugby in general - are always there or thereabouts. They've dominated the World Rugby Sevens Series since its inception in 1999-2000, winning 12 championships. Nearest rivals South Africa and Fiji have only three apiece. They've won twice already this season - in Dubai and Sydney - as well as placing third in Hamilton and Las Vegas.
But there's no doubts as to the standout team of the season so far. The US, who have previously never finished higher than fifth in the Sevens Series final standings, are sitting pretty with a seven-point cushion at the top of the table.
Their success has been all about consistency. They've only won one tournament - their home event in Las Vegas - but have finished as runner-up in four of the other five. And with just four rounds of the series to go, they'll be going all out for victory in Hong Kong.
What about England? They've won the Hong Kong Sevens four times, most recently back in 2006, but have endured something of a fall from grace on the sevens circuit in the past couple of years. They have two third-place finishes to their name this year and lie fifth in the standings. As such, they will deservedly arrive in Hong Kong as outsiders.
Which players should I look out for?
Sevens is a team game, but more so than the 15-man code, it rewards individual brilliance. If you've got a player with the ability to stand up their opposite number and beat them on the outside, you're always in with a chance. With that in mind, here's a look at the players to watch in Hong Kong:
Dan Norton (England)
England may not be flying high in the World Rugby Sevens Series standings, but in the everyoung Dan Norton they still have a world-class finisher in their ranks. The competition's all-time leading try scorer with 323, the 30-year-old has already dotted down 24 times this season. Give him space and he's absolutely lethal.
Carlin Isles (US)
Dubbed the fastest man in rugby, the US flyer - close friends with American sprint stars Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay - can run 100 metres in 10.13 seconds. Isles is so quick he's even touted the possibility of competing in the 100 metres at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. But he's not just a speed merchant. With a devilish change of direction, Isles is almost unstoppable if you give him time on the ball. No surprise that he's the Sevens Series' top try scorer this season with 32 - five more than his nearest rival.
Pol Pla (Spain)
Spain hasn't traditionally been a hotbed of rugby talent, but in Pol Pla they have a real force to be reckoned with. The Catalonian has crossed the whitewash 17 times so far this season, including arguably the most memorable try in Spanish sevens history, as he touched down in the dying seconds to help his side beat New Zealand for the first time ever. Look out for more show-stopping moments from the 26-year-old in Hong Kong.
Jerry Tuwai (Fiji)
Arguably the greatest playmaker in rugby sevens history, Tuwai comes into the tournament with injury doubts, but Fiji - not to mention the Hong Kong crowd - will be hoping that he's ready and raring to go by April 5th. He scores tries aplenty (17 so far this season), but it's his wizardry with ball in hand that really impresses. Tuwai tops the offload chart this season with 27; tackling him is really only half the battle.
Connor Braid (Canada)
The Canadian back's workrate is unparalleled. After six rounds, he comfortably tops the DHL Impact Player standings, a tracker that ranks players on four metrics - offloads, carries, tackles and line breaks. Braid has made an impressive 20 offloads and 18 clean breaks this year, but ball carrying is his strongest suit. The 28-year-old has carried an eye-watering 148 times this season, 25 times more than his nearest DHL Impact Player rival.