Why next year is huge for sevens

Even the World Cup in Moscow could be overshadowed as Hong Kong go in search of core team status in World Series

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 February, 2014, 11:36pm

If you are reading this, then obviously the Mayans got it wrong. The doomsayers will be left disappointed. Luckily the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union doesn't subscribe to the end-of-the-world theory.

They have planned a hectic schedule for the sevens squad, which faces a crucial year as the game enters a new phase.

According to Dai Rees, the HKRFU's head of performance, 2013 will be a landmark year for sevens with the national team facing a number of challenges.

Top of the list would normally be the Rugby World Cup Sevens, which will be played in Moscow at the end of June. Hong Kong qualified by finishing in the top three in the final leg of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series in Singapore which doubled as the Asian qualifiers.

But even qualifying for the World Cup has been overshadowed by the fact that Hong Kong will be vying to become a core team in the HSBC Sevens World Series when they take part in the London Sevens for the first time at the end of May.

If Hong Kong manage to clinch one of the three berths available, the entire fabric of local rugby is bound to change as the team will have to become professional.

The team are already professional in method and approach, but the players are lawyers, pilots, firemen, holding down day jobs and juggling their love for the game around modern life. This could all change if Rowan Varty and his men claim core-team status in London.

Next season, the HSBC Sevens World Series is set to expand to 10 tournaments - Argentina who were supposed to come on board this season pulled out at the last minute, but will be ready for the 2013-14 season. Taking part in 10 tournaments during a seven-month stretch is difficult, especially if you are fielding a bunch of players who have to take time off work.

Even the established teams struggle and that is why more and more countries have now taken to contracting players full-time. New Zealand, the leaders in the game, have not only contracted players, but last week their union revealed that it would invest NZ$1.2 million (HK$7.7 million) annually on the All Blacks Sevens.

This is mainly to do with the fact that sevens is an Olympic sport and New Zealand is eyeing to win both gold medals on offer, men's and women's, in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

While the Olympics is the new Holy Grail, sevens rugby needs a lot of commitment because of the annual series - with the women also getting their own series this year.

Hong Kong have aspirations for their men's team who this season were crowned Asian champions for the first time. The momentous achievement will have a ripple effect with sevens set to become the first team sport at the Sports Institute since soccer was kicked out of the elite academy more than a decade ago.

Rugby has been the recipient of funding and assistance from the Sports Institute ever since the men's team won a silver medal at the 2009 East Asian Games. The following year they repeated that feat at the Asian Games in Guangzhou. This has led to the players being funded under the individual athletes awards scheme.

But from April, sevens is set to become a fully-fledged sport at the Sha Tin academy. This will mean millions of dollars in annual funding for the sport with the institute also providing funds for coaching. Players could get as much as HK$30,000 a month and this could see some, especially those just out of college, opting to become full-time players for a couple of seasons.

With the Olympics on the horizon, this could be the way to go and the entire process would gain more momentum were Hong Kong to win core status at the London Sevens.

With all the focus on sevens, where does that leave the 15s game? Hong Kong proved the established version cannot be overlooked either, with a sterling performance in Dubai this month when they came close to pulling off a win over Belgium, ranked 23rd in the world.

With such a small base of players, Hong Kong are punching above their weight. This is mainly due to the professional approach and meticulous planning taking place behind the scenes. Thank heavens then that these people all look ahead into the future and do not subscribe to the end-of-the-world theory.