Ireland give HK Sevens welcome lift
By NAZVI CAREEM
THE Irish Rugby Union have lifted some of the gloom surrounding next year's Hong Kong Sevens by announcing they will once again send a full national side to the tournament.
Ireland made a spectacular debut in Hong Kong earlier this year, narrowly losing to Australia in the quarter-finals after star fly-half Eric Elwood missed a crucial conversion.
Three weeks later the Irish lost a similar semi-final to the Aussies in the World Cup in Edinburgh, a missed kick by Elwood again separating the two teams.
But by then Ireland had already made a huge impression on the tournament, defeating Hong Kong Sevens champions Western Samoa 17-0 in the second phase of the competition.
The news came as a timely boost for Hong Kong Sevens organisers, who are involved in a dispute with the managers of the new stadium, Wembley International.
Wembley, supported by the Urban Council, are refusing to release their 50 executive suites at the 40,000-seater facility for next year's tournament from March 26-27.
Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chairman Stuart Leckie said: ''Ireland are the first of the home union teams to confirm their participation which has given an excellent, early boost to the tournament.'' Organisers are hoping that all home nations will compete at next year's event, including world champions England, the only major rugby playing nation yet to send a full national side to Hong Kong.
Early indications from the English Rugby Football Union indicate that they are now ready to make their Hong Kong debut. The ERFU will discuss the Hong Kong Sevens at a committee meeting next month.
At this year's Sevens, Ireland paraded many of the players who helped them to a spectacular victory over England in their final Five Nations match, including Elwood, British Lions Mick Galwey and Vince Cunningham and Denis McBride.
Tonga, the defending Plate champions, have also confirmed their participation along with Romania, who have won the Bowl for the past two years.
Also returning are Japan, Kwang-Hua Taipei, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand.