[Hong Kong, 8 March 2017]: Uganda will be the 60th national union to participate in the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens’ parade of nations since 1976, when they debut next month.
The African sevens champions will be one of 28 international teams taking part as Hong Kong retains its status as the largest tournament on the World Rugby HSBC Sevens World Series (HSBC SWS).
Sixteen international teams will contest the HSBC SWS competition while 12 teams will vie for the single promotion spot on offer in the World Rugby HSBC Sevens Series qualifier tournament.
The 15 core teams participating in all ten tournaments on the international series will once again be the stars of the show, delighting the expected cumulative 120,000 fans. Those teams are series leaders South Africa, Argentina, Australia, Canada, England, Fiji, France, Japan, Kenya, New Zealand, Russia, Samoa, Scotland, United States and Wales.
The sixteenth team invited by World Rugby to complete the HSBC SWS core competition in Hong Kong will be South Korea, third-placed finishers on last year’s Asia Rugby Sevens Series.
Fiji are the defending Hong Kong Sevens champions after their 21-7 win over New Zealand last April. It was a record 16th Hong Kong cup for Fiji, and their fourth in five years. New Zealand are second in the cup-winning stakes in Hong Kong with 11.
South Africa, Fiji and a resurgent England currently constitute the top three on the HSBC SWS table after the fifth round in Las Vegas (3-5 March).
In a blistering start to the series, South Africa has won four of the five tournaments this season ahead of this weekend’s Canada Sevens. While they have reached the final on three occasions in Hong Kong, South Africa have yet to win the Cup here.
Hong Kong host battle for promotion to HSBC SWS
For a fifth year, Hong Kong has been selected by World Rugby to host the international qualification tournament for the HSBC Sevens World Series. The international qualifier will feature 12 teams, two from each of World Rugby’s six regions.
The teams are Namibia and Uganda (Africa), Guyana and Jamaica (Americas North), Chile and Uruguay (Americas South), Hong Kong and Sri Lanka (Asia), Germany and Spain (Europe), and Papua New Guinea and Tonga (Oceania). The pairings from Europe and Oceania remained the same from 2016.
The winner will be promoted to next year’s Series, replacing the bottom-placed team after the final tournament in London in May.
Japan were promoted to the Series in 2016, after beating Hong Kong in last year’s final, 24-14.
First-timers Uganda qualified for Hong Kong after beating Namibia 38-19 in the final of the Rugby Africa Men's Sevens Championships last September.
Uganda participated in the Dubai Sevens earlier this season, claiming their first-ever Series scalp by beating Japan, before eventually finishing in 14th place, ahead of core sides Russia and Japan.
Uganda coach Tolbert Ondanga said, “Playing in Dubai was an initiation of sorts. The intensity of the game was one that we have not experienced before and we learned a lot. Hong Kong is the Mecca of Sevens and Ugandan fans are well aware of the tournament. It will be a baptism of fire for us, but we have been training very hard,” he said.
New Hong Kong coach Paul John - appointed in January to replace another former Wales Sevens coach in Gareth Baber, now at the reins of Olympic champions Fiji - commented on the qualifier.
“The standard is growing every year. As an Olympic sport, more resources are being put into the game and now you have fully professional teams - not just at core level, but in the qualifier competition; teams like Germany,” said John.
“Germany have put a lot of resources into the game and are one of the sides to be reckoned with. There are a lot more tournaments now in Europe and the FIRA competition is getting strong.
“Belgium have beaten core teams in the competition and Chile, Papua New Guinea and Uganda have already played on the Series this season. It’s going to be a real challenge.
When questioned about his expectations, John was realistic about the difficulties of joining the side late in the preparation phase, “It will be difficult obviously but I just want to carry on from the good work that Jevon Groves [interim coach and former captain for John with Wales] has been doing.”
John is relishing the opportunity to return to Hong Kong saying, “When people talk about sevens they talk about Hong Kong. When I was coaching Wales, Hong Kong was always a highlight. I was lucky to play in the 1997 Rugby World Cup Sevens here and to coach Wales to the final in 2013 was incredible.
“I feel fortunate to have the chance to coach the home team and I am looking forward to getting back into the sevens game.
“Hong Kong is such a special event and hopefully I can raise all of the players to the standard they are capable of, get everyone excited and give the boys a chance to qualify,” John added.
The official draw for the 2017 Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens will be held in Hong Kong on 13 March 2017.
2017 Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens Teams:
- South Africa
- New Zealand
- South Korea *Invited by World Rugby to participate in the HSBC SWS core competition in Hong Kong.
HSBC SWS Qualification Tournament (teams grouped by region):
- Hong Kong
- Sri Lanka
- Papua New Guinea