Hong Kong Sevens

The Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens is an international seven-a-side rugby tournament held every March as part of the Sevens World Series and featuring the world’s top teams.

Alvin Sallay

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 April, 2008, 12:00am

It's a pity Hong Kong didn't make it to the Bowl final at this year's Hong Kong Sevens. If they had, there was every chance Keith Robertson would have won the Best and Fairest Player award. He deserved it.

Probably the smallest player on the park last weekend, Robertson punched way above his weight and was in a class of his own for Hong Kong. He was the most consistent performer over the three days. He was almost solely responsible for the home team's narrow victory over Japan, scoring a brace of tries and pulling off a handful of crunching, try-saving tackles.

The one where he felled Japan's Tongan import, Siupeli Lokotui, in the dying seconds of the Bowl quarter-final was a delight. Robertson said afterwards that opponents tended to underestimate him because of his slight build and thought he could be a pushover. He made sure they paid a steep price for their folly.

Only one Hong Kong player has ever won the Leslie Williams Best and Fairest trophy. That was Dan Daly, a soldier who arrived in Stanley Fort in the days when it was garrisoned by the British army. A couple of weeks after arriving in February 1987, Daly was drafted into the Hong Kong team who went on to win the Bowl title. Unlike Daly, Robertson is a product of the local system, having started as a mini-rugby player and then honed his game at school here.

Robertson turned 21 last Monday, one day after the 2008 extravaganza ended. He will most certainly win the Best and Fairest title soon. Time is on his side and he is a rare talent. Hong Kong rugby is fortunate to have him in its ranks.

If one of the best moments last weekend was watching Robertson nail the dreadlocked Lokotui, the flip side was all those exhibitionists running on to the field and spoiling the fun.

While they raised plenty of cheers trying to evade the security guards, you cannot condone such actions. Most of them were young schoolboys, probably trying to show off to their peers. They only made fools of themselves. Never before has there been such a rash of runners. While it was all supposed to be in good fun - New Zealand captain DJ Forbes actually shook hands with one - it showed the security in a poor light. Accusations of perpetrators being manhandled have tarnished what was a great Sevens. There was no need for this rough stuff, but in the heat of the moment, frustrations boiled over.

The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which administers Hong Kong Stadium, will have to address this issue.

While a firm hand is needed to deal with those idiots who run on to the pitch, they have to be careful not to turn the stadium into a police state.

But what these scenes, played out in front of Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, would have helped wrongly underline is that the Sevens is an event for drunken gweilos who run on to the pitch. Having a drink, or a dozen, is all part and parcel of the event. But behaving like an ass is most certainly not.

Unfortunately, the Chinese media love to portray rugby in this manner. It is something the game can do without as its continues to grow in the Chinese community.

The presence of Ricky Cheuk Ming-yin and Fan Shun-kei in the Hong Kong team this year will have gone a long way to prove that rugby, at least sevens, can be a game suited for the Chinese.

And the emergence of Robertson proves this is a game for all sizes. Physical presence might matter at the highest level - just look at the sheer physicality of champions New Zealand - but when it comes to taking part, the game is for all, the catchphrase of Hong Kong rugby.

On the subject of champions, Gordon Tietjens' invincible team seem to have taken the tag of untouchables a bit too much to heart. New Zealand seem to have fallen foul of sections of their fans by not turning up at any functions organised by the New Zealand community in Hong Kong.

In the past they used to visit schools, and attend social events. Not so this time. It seems community involvement has been sacrificed on the altar of professionalism. A pity, for the Sevens has always been about teams interacting with the community.

Another untouchable was Sir Clive Woodward, the former England World Cup-winning coach. He was spotted in the Goldman Sachs box and thanks to Allan Payne, HKRFU executive director, we breached the investment bank's defence for an interview.

Woodward initially agreed to an interview while he was conversing with some members of the Japan Rugby Union. Returning a few minutes later with a photographer, we were refused entry by the two bouncers at the door. A PR type said Woodward refused to do any interviews.

Did a knight of the British realm fail to live up to his word? We'll never know. Thank heavens for Robertson.


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Alvin Sallay

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