Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2016

Sevens Seen, with Robby Nimmo - Day 1

Our roving reporter takes you around the sevens world

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 April, 2016, 7:03pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 April, 2016, 4:35pm

Going Green

Whereas people think Scots, Kiwis and Aussies make the biggest globetrotters, according to Forbes magazine research, the Irish top the list of people living overseas at 17.5 per cent, followed by New Zealand at 14.1 per cent. The Chinese are on the bottom of the table with 0.3 per cent. Australia only rate at 2 per cent, well below the UK, who rate 6.8 per cent. 

The Irish diaspora has always wandered the seven seas and celebrated events like St Patrick’s Day wherever they are.

In Chicago, they colour the river emerald, the gateway of India in Mumbai goes green and in Hong Kong this year Shamrock Catering Group funded a green tram (or ding ding as they are known in Cantonese) which is still running around Central and Wan Chai as part of the Irish Festival, Feile na hEireann. The month of cultural celebrations segues into the Sevens.

Keeping the fun alive for more than 3,000 Irish in Hong Kong is engineer Ronan Collins, who hails from Sligo and has lived in Hong Kong since 2000.

He describes himself as “a keen, but useless Gaelic footballer when I first arrived. I played alongside the likes of Fergal Power, Michael Lacy, Fergal Whyte and Ian Lawlor, who no doubt will all make appearances this weekend”.

We were chasing after the Irish tram with my son for a selfie. Now I’m looking forward to a few ‘quiet pints’ in the north stand

Ronan Collins

“Operation Leprechaun was last month. Then we were chasing after the Irish tram with my son for a selfie. Now I’m looking forward to a few ‘quiet pints’ in the north stand with fellow Irishman Jamie McWilliam and the lads.

“What could possibly go wrong?”says Collins, forgetting that Murphy’s law still applies this weekend.

Hong Kong’s Irish-based engineers, accountants, stylists, caterers, sailors, footballers and rugby fans all flock to the Sevens for one purpose: “To escape from their usual Hong Kong weekend norms of chasing their kids around in their green shirts at mini rugby, the Gaelic dragons, Irish dancing or to catch a glimpse of the clover coated ‘ding ding’.

“Even without an Irish team, the diaspora here will be content drinking pints of ‘green tea’ and cheering for Hong Kong,” said the managing director of InteliBuild.

Stand up if you like the French

Tradition may deem that the French team get jeered in the stadium every year, but their fans are growing exponentially in So Kon Po.

The French population in Hong Kong – estimated at around 20,000 – has grown faster than any other expat group in recent years.

In 2007, just 6,236 French were listed with the consulate as resident in Hong Kong. Today, that figure has just about tripled.

The southwest of France is the home of French rugby and where the games have a culture of team spirit, fair play and parties, or what’s known as the ‘third half’
Frank Drouet

There are 800 French companies operating in Hong Kong. Key industries include finance, accounting, construction, logistics and retail, import and export.

One company who has been here for some time and who has had an involvement with rugby for over 100 years is Societe Generale.

This year, they welcomed former France international and rugby legend Thomas Castaignède to their suite again. Former All Blacks legends Ali Williams and Eric Rush also attended a company event this week.

Said Frank Drouet, APAC head of global markets at Societe Generale: “We support about 450 rugby clubs across France; in a way – with over 20,000 French residents living here – Hong Kong increasingly has the community feel of a French village!”

“The southwest of France is the home of French rugby and where the games have a culture of team spirit, fair play and parties, or what’s known as the ‘third half’.

“With its special atmosphere, fancy dress and passionate fans, the Hong Kong Sevens always reminds me of the games back home,” Drouet says.

With its special atmosphere, fancy dress and passionate fans, the Hong Kong Sevens always reminds me of the games back home
Frank Drouet

But behind all the trappings of the box with a vintage rugby theme, the company is committed to rugby at the grass roots level in Hong Kong.

Societe Generale has just signed a four-year commitment with the HKRU Community Foundation Limited. This includes ‘Chance to Play’, helping youngsters who are either living in partitioned homes or public housing and Tour Aid, that provides the opportunity for local Hong Kong children to travel to Europe and to participate in a tour, staying with local families.

Societe Generale also sponsors the Societe Generale Valley Rugby club, whose men and women’s teams captured the league and Grand Championship titles this season.

Accepting the Haka challenge

Maori cultural expert Inia Maxwell who taught Matt Damon to do the haka is reported as saying: “The haka is not so much as a challenge as a collective frenzy, a united front to intimate opponents. It’s a feeling of unity, a feeling of one that we are going into battle, and we don’t expect to come back alive, or injury free. And so they throw everything at it.”

When it comes to rugby, the posturing tribal war dance has had the opposition on the pitch quavering in their boots for decades, and at the AustCham lunch this week, even former Wallaby Matt Burke admitted it had given him the heebie jeebies on the pitch, despite having 81 caps for Australia.

“How do you go into combat and accept the challenge?” he pondered. “If you sing Waltzing Matilda, that’s really going to scare them!

“In 1996, I was playing in a test and one of the team said, ‘How about we just turn around and walk away?’ We were beaten 43-6 that day.”

Explaining the foreboding presence of the haka in full flight, Burke said: “There’s neck muscles grinding, there’s nostrils flaring, eyes bulging and you can just about see their tonsils. And just to terrify you, then there’s Tana Umaga. He looks like the Predator.”

It’s all about staring out the opposition, he adds. “You’ve got to eyeball them, you’ve got to look them straight in the eyes in a way that says, ‘I’ve got you’.”

Recounting days of yore of the Sevens, Burke said: “In the old days when I played around 1993, the Hong Kong Sevens was different. If someone got injured, you would get a team member from another team.

“One year, the Fijians needed another player, and Jason Little stepped in to play for them. He just pulled on a Fiji jersey on and went for it. He even did the Fijian war dance.”

History repeats itself

Enjoying his seventh sevens with his wife, sister and brother-in-law who all live here with their children, Julian Marwood took time out to reflect on his family who lived here generations ago.

Marwood’s great grandfather was in a prison camp during the war. “Our great grandfather came over with P & O as a senior engineer. He lived here around 1920 to 1945. People brought them food in the camps, and really that’s the only way they survived.”

Coincidences seem to follow expats around and Marwood, who is the regional sales manager at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, is no exception.

My great grandfather later worked as a senior manager of engineering at the Swire sugar refinery in Tai Koo. This was the site of my current office at City Plaza in Taikoo Shing
Julian Marwood

“My great grandfather later worked as a senior manager of engineering at the Swire sugar refinery in Tai Koo. This was the site of my current office at City Plaza in Taikoo Shing.”

With much of Hong Kong established by Scottish traders and merchants, it’s no surprise that the early colony attracted people like Marwood’s Scottish forebears. A string of governers were Scottish, from Wilson to Maclehose, Cowperthwaite and Black.

There is a MacPherson Stadium in Mong Kok, and Scottish names like Thistle St, Edinburgh place, Argyle St, Perth St, Stirling Road, Macdonnell Rd, Cameron Rd, Dunbar Rd, Fife St, Granville Rd and For Far Rd (as there is in Glasgow). Even the trams here came from Aberdeen.

Adds Marwood, who has lived in Hong Kong for five years with his family: “My great grandparents used to live in Braemer Hill, you can’t get more Scottish than that.”

Sisters are doing it for themselves

Gracie Hood is playing in the women’s under-19 tournament on Sunday with fire in her belly and love in her heart for her sister, Jessie, who is her motivation and sometimes her opponent.

Both Gracie, 18, and Jessie, 19, started playing for the Sai Kung Stingrays six years ago.

Flyhalf Gracie says: “Jessie now plays for England U20s. She left Hong Kong when she was 15 to board at Hartpury College in the UK and I stayed.”

Explaining what it is like to have a family member in the opposition, Gracie said: “A few times, Jessie has flown back to Hong Kong and I’ve stood on the opposite side of her during kick off, which we both found very challenging as well as daunting – especially when we had to smash each other with mum worrying on the sidelines.”

Whilst she would like to follow in her sister’s footsteps at the same uni studying sports performance at Bath University, Gracie has her own ideas thereafter.

“Jessie will always be my role model, but I would like to play for Kong instead of following my sister’s footsteps all the way.’’

Rugby has also taken Gracie places – such as tours of Japan and Singapore, as well as curtain-raisers in the stadium.

Revealing an insight into playing in her home town, Gracie says:” What I love about playing at the Sevens is the atmosphere and the excitement when you step foot on the pitch. The music, party atmosphere, the costumes from the South Stand and the roar of the crowds motivated me for the entire game.’”

Rugby has taken Gracie from strength to strength – literally: “Rugby has made me fitter and more independent and able to prepare for anything or deal with any obstacles.”

Even if sometimes that obstacle has come in the form of her daunting1.83cm role model and sister.

Piping hot fun at the Sevens Village

Each year, the place to be if you can’t get a ticket – or if you want to escape the madness in the stadium – is the free Sevens Village across the road. You can pull up a bean bag and watch all the action on the big screen.

The band of rock n kilt-kitted bagpipers is back this year

“We have a full stage set up this year (thanks to kick off concert on Wednesday night where David Hasselhoff performed with The Proclaimers and Bjorn Again) so live music is going to be at the forefront of the night-time entertainment this year,” said Rob Derry of Ironmonger Events, who runs the village.

“The Red Hot Chili Pipers will be playing at the final whistle each night. They will also play in the day as well. We also have another band, Black Widow, playingat night.”

An army runs on its stomach, and so do hungry Sevens fans. “The other major change is we have an even greater selection of food this year, with the Butchers Club back again, but this year alongside Calimex and Bread and Beast,” says Derry.

The village always attracts a lot of Sevens legends and fans can also test their skills against rugby legends Brian O’Driscoll, Jason Robinson, George Gregan and Gavin Hastings.

The venue has a number of family friendly activitiesincluding the HSBC #BRINGYOURGAME Zone, which includes interactive rugby, golf and tennis games. The village also features a kid’s zone.