The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2016-17 has been a whirlwind so far. From the heat of Dubai, cricket in Cape Town, wind in Wellington, sizzling Sydney sun, virtuoso performances in Las Vegas, dropping the puck with the hockey teams in Vancouver ... now it's time for Hong Kong.
The 16 team captains gathered under the old clocktower on Wednesday, along with representatives of 12 other teams bidding to join them on the series next year by winning the qualifier that runs side by side with the tournament in Hong Kong this weekend.
With six rounds already played, South Africa lead the way on 126 points, 23 ahead of nearest rivals England. The Blitzboks have won four rounds and England the other two.
Interestingly, Olympic champions Fiji, who currently lie in third place, are yet to win a round of the series. But if there’s one place they like to win, it’s Hong Kong and captain Osea Kolinisau says his side are preparing well for the event.
"We feel good after coming into Hong Kong early and we're in a really good place and are getting things right," he said. "We have some tough games and every pool game is tough but it's a good challenge.
"Hong Kong is a special place for every young Fijian. We grow up watching our idols who have worn the white jersey. It's like a right of passage – we say if you haven't played in Hong Kong, you haven't played for Fiji!"
The last rounds of the series saw USA get to the semi-finals in Las Vegas and Vancouver, something they'd like to improve on this weekend in Hong Kong with captain Madison Hughes hoping his side can benefit from the atmosphere in the famous Hong Kong Stadium.
"It's an absolutely incredible atmosphere – the whole crowd get into the game and it just flows onto the field. We are in a strong pool with Scotland, Argentina and Russia but we're confident in ourselves. We're hoping for at least a semi-final but it's about going out there and doing that now."
Hong Kong could also be a special weekend for England's Dan Norton, who is set to become the series top scorer if he dots down this weekend. The 29-year-old has scored 244 tries and currently share the record with Kenya's Collins Injera.
His coach Simon Amor paid tribute to the winger: "Players like Dan Norton set the world on fire and make the game of sevens so exciting.
"He is quick, which helps when you're a winger! He's got wonderful feet, but one of the thing people don't realise is that he is one of the most durable players we have, never misses one minute of training and is fit during every minute of every game. I may have jinxed him now, but he is fit, he works hard and he can keep getting better."
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World Rugby Vice-Chairman Agustín Pichot said: "Hong Kong is one of the biggest and most unique tournaments on the HSBC Sevens Series circuit and this weekend will be yet another fantastic event. "South Africa are deservedly leading the field but there is still a lot of rugby to be played and it will be interesting to see who lifts the trophy on Sunday evening here at the Hong Kong Stadium."
Giles Morgan, Global Head of Sponsorship and Events at HSBC, said: “We are delighted to be back once again for the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.
"Located in our spiritual home, this tournament always has a special place for HSBC, but this year there is a tangible feeling of significance around the showpiece event of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. The first Hong Kong Sevens after rugby sevens’ wildly successful inclusion into the Olympic programme in Rio, the game that always been huge in Hong Kong is now growing from strength to strength all over the world.
"With the series now reaching more people than ever before, Hong Kong is set to once again be the showcase for a sport that is very much on the up. It’s because it is such an important time for the game that we were proud just a few weeks ago to launch the HSBC Try Rugby programme alongside the Hong Kong Rugby Union. By giving school children the opportunity to learn the game and its values from an early age, we hope to continue the development of the sport in Hong Kong and help secure a talent pool that will keep rugby sevens as one of the most entertaining and physically spectacular sports in the world.”
2017-2018 Qualifying Tournament
Papua New Guinea will compete in the Word Series qualifying tournament trying to win spot in next year's series.