World Cup must follow Hong Kong's lead - the people have spoken
There were more than 25,000 good reasons why the second World Cup Sevens, which Hong Kong will host next March, should be held along the same lines as this year's Hong Kong Sevens. A large crowd, which organisers said was in the region of 25,000, partied on Friday night at the Hong Kong Stadium. Under lights for the first time, the tournament sparkled proudly. The new format of six-pool four-team, was also an unqualified success. Never mind the fact that fans and players were kept in the dark until late in to Saturday, as to which teams would qualify for which group. In fact most people would have only known the knockout round pairings on Sunday morning.
But the nature of the preliminary round, which offered teams a second chance, must be lauded. After all, critics of the previous eight-pool, three-team format had attacked it for being boring and predictable. Tomorrow, the directors of Rugby World Cup, who organise and stage the World Cup Sevens, will probably reveal the shape of their tournament. Let's hope they follow this year's Hong Kong Sevens format. It offers three days of intense competition, gives teams a second bite at the cherry, and keeps the interest of the crowd from the start. And from the players' point of view, it only takes six games - over three days - to win a title, be it Cup, Plate or Bowl.
Compare this with the ridiculous 11 games which England had to play to win the first World Cup Sevens at Murrayfield in 1993 and things are put in perspective. That tournament was roundly criticised by all. The Hong Kong Sevens, which has been instrumental in lifting the image of sevens rugby and made it a global sport, is a far more refined tournament. The organisers - the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union - and sponsors Cathay Pacific and HongkongBank, must be given a pat on the back for taking the courageous decision to change a tried and tested formula last year. A word of praise for tournament director and HKRFU secretary Peter Else as well.
He is the person chiefly responsible for the seeding of the teams this year. His astute forecast saw every game go according to the form book - bar one, the shock 19-12 win by Canada over South Africa. Not a bad prediction, getting one result wrong from 36 games in the preliminary rounds.
What more the placing of Scotland in the third tier of teams was inspired. It is known that there were those among the organising committee not happy with this. But Else was proven right by the performance of the Scots. They lost to England and Argentina in their pool and only caned Singapore - something everyone seems to do these days. On reflection, the last week has brought nothing but good news for Hong Kong rugby. The Hong Kong Sevens was a success. Then there was the more momentous occasion of seeing the PLA arriving in the territory to play rugby at the Carlsberg 10s. Their presence was accompanied by soothing words from both sides committing themselves to the future of rugby in the territory. The HKRFU has already invited the PLA to field a team in the Second Division next season.
The PLA have said they are interested. Now let's hope that bureaucracy can be overcome and they get the multiple entry visas to travel to Hong Kong every week. Then on Friday, China's most powerful sports personality Wei Jizhong - the secretary general of the country's Olympic Committee - said he would press for the formation of a national rugby union. The International Rugby Board's Vernon Pugh, said if China formed a national rugby union before September, they would be invited to join the world rugby fraternity. If the Chinese do form a national Union, rest assured that soon the Chinese would be up there amongst the world's best.
They play sport for prestige. And they wouldn't want to be left behind. The 1996 Hong Kong Sevens was a landmark for more reasons than one.