Hong Kong Sevens

Sevens hangover only just starting

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 April, 2012, 12:00am

Being successful does not mean you are assured of a charmed and stress-free life. It can be quite the opposite, as the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union has discovered in the aftermath of arguably the best-ever Hong Kong Sevens.

The headaches stem from how to top last weekend's action, culminating in a top-quality Cup final with the only downside being the home team's heartbreaking loss in the qualification tournament. In hindsight, that might not be such a bad thing, as it would have given the HKRFU an even bigger headache as to how to cope with being a core team in the HSBC Sevens World Series next season.

For those lucky enough to be at Hong Kong Stadium last Sunday, they witnessed a new dawn in the tournament's history. The new format produced thrill-a-minute encounters across the board, from the 12 top-tier core teams battling it out to the 12 hopefuls vying to join them.

There were two causes to champion, making for better viewing. It seemed to cast a spell over the crowd as the partying in the stands on the Sunday seemed more subdued than usual. At last, it looked like rugby was more important than partying. But how do you better that? This is the quandary the HKRFU and the International Rugby Board are in right now. Having delivered the three new core teams - Canada, Spain and Portugal - in an expanded series next season, the question is: How will the promotion-relegation system work?

For a promotion-relegation format to have maximum effect, it would call for both to be decided at the same tournament. Well, Hong Kong decided the three new teams to be promoted next season, but there was no relegation as the number of core teams will be expanded to 15. But what happens in the future, next year for instance?

At the 2013 Hong Kong Sevens, the relegation system will not work as our event is smack bang in the middle of the series. The three teams who will be relegated from next season onwards can only be decided at the end of the series, which this year takes place at Twickenham in June. Can a promotion format work then? It can, but it would be less meaningful, not with a relegation format side-by-side to give added excitement.

This presents a problem, and as HKRFU chairman Trevor Gregory put it: 'No one can go up and no one can come down next year in Hong Kong'.

The HKRFU wants to keep this two-tier format for the future as it feels it was an unqualified success. But for next year, we could see the tournament being modified again, until all the stakeholders - the IRB, HKRFU and HSBC, co-sponsors of this tournament as well as title sponsors of the world series - come up with a formula.

Hong Kong is the only 24-team tournament in the nine-leg series (which is to be expanded to 10 next season with a stopover most likely in a South American city) and as such is easily the best-placed event where promotion-relegation should be decided.

But as Hong Kong is not the last leg, does it mean we will have to move our dates to June? This is highly unlikely due to the weather at the time being hot and humid. If we cannot move our tournament, the only other option is for the world series to move its dates, or rather for the other tournaments to fall in line with a Hong Kong finish.

For this to happen, it will mean Scotland (Glasgow Sevens) and England (London Sevens) will have to be at the start of the calendar in the 2013-14 season, say in September, followed by the other seven tournaments (presuming there are 10), and ending in Hong Kong in March or April. That would be the perfect scenario, for it will mean we maintain our prized top-dog status.

A lot will depend on the negotiating skills of the HKRFU, the goodwill of the IRB, and co-operation from the other tournaments, if such a compromise is to come to pass.

Plenty can go wrong. What if Twickenham does not want to lose its position as the climactic event? It can seat more than 80,000 fans and is the largest rugby stadium in the world. Last year, the London Sevens received rave reviews and drew huge crowds. What if they stick to their guns and the IRB decides to make it a 24-team event so as to accommodate the promotion-relegation format?

Last weekend's action, while a resounding hit, has also brought with it more questions than answers for the HKRFU. Success always has a price.