Sevens changes on cards

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 August, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 August, 1995, 12:00am

THE format of the Hong Kong Sevens is all set to undergo a transformation. The call for change has been made with an eye on the 1997 Rugby World Cup Sevens' motto of 'bigger and better'.

The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's (HKRFU) board of directors are now considering changing the existing pool system by cutting down on the number of pools and increasing the teams within it. This would mean playing an extra day and under lights.

'In my personal opinion, I think a change would be good for the tournament,' said Dave Roberts, HKRFU chief executive officer, yesterday.

'We are thinking of introducing six pools of four teams each,' he added.

Rugby World Cup Ltd (RWC), who awarded Hong Kong the right to host the second World Cup Sevens on March 22-23, 1997, have said that while they are happy with the existing formula, they would not stop moves for a change.

But the RWC's executive committee, who were in town last week, have said that any change would have to be tested out on the 1996 Hong Kong Sevens, and if successful, it will be adopted by the World Cup Sevens.

Moves are now afoot to get the unanimous consensus of the Union's board of directors and the sponsors of next year's tournament - Cathay Pacific and HongkongBank - to support the change.

The new six pool, four team format, which will replace the present eight pools of three teams, would see teams having to play one extra game. Instead of the 24 pool games now played, there will be 36 pool games. The 12 extra pool games will be played on the Friday and under lights.

The Union's board of directors met on Wednesday night to discuss this contentious issue and it is known that there is a strong body of opinion for change as well as those conservatives who want the status quo.

Proponents for change point out that the new format would mean: (1) eliminating the cut-throat situation now prevalent in the pool games where one loss could mean a team is out of contention for top honours; (2) an extra game for every team; (3) an extra day - which would mean more revenue for the organisers who can benefit financially from ticket sales and television rights.

Opponents for change question the wisdom of altering a successful formula - which the Hong Kong Sevens has had since 1984 - and whether the tournament needs an extra day.

The new format would see a country having to win six games instead of five to be crowned Cup champions.

If the new format is adopted by RWC, the 1997 World Cup Sevens would still mean a country would play less games than they did at the inaugural tournament at Murrayfield. In Scotland, the Cup finalists played 10 games.

'We can always try it out next year and, if it fails, go back to the existing format for 1997,' said Roberts.

Hong Kong's national team would vote for change going on previous results. At the last two Hong Kong Sevens, the territory defeated the seeded sides in their pool, but ended in the Bowl after losing to the second-tiered team.

Last year they beat France but lost to Tonga, and the year before defeated Scotland before losing to Argentina.

'The good thing about the new format is that it will offer teams a second chance which the current format does not,' said Roberts.

The present system has been labelled as predictable and boring, and one which depended too much on the luck of the draw.