Hong Kong Sevens
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Sevens door left open for England

A tug-of-war between the English clubs and the country's governing body, the Rugby Football Union (RFU), has left a dismayed Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU) still holding open a berth for this year's Silver Sevens.

The HKRFU yesterday announced the lineup for the March 24-26 Credit Suisse First Boston Hong Kong Sevens. Missing from the 24-team roster are England, the only team yet to confirm their presence at the 25th anniversary of the competition.

'I believe the RFU are currently in a dialogue with the clubs on releasing players . . . and we have granted their wish for a few more days to make up their mind on the invitation,' said Peter Duncan, HKRFU chairman.

With hope springing eternal, the HKRFU has now extended its deadline until the end of this week.

Even England coach Clive Woodward has backed moves to send a representative team to Hong Kong and for more involvement in the inaugural World Sevens Series.

'We've got to get involved in this circuit because it's a great grooming ground,' Woodward was recently quoted as saying. 'Look at where the likes of Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen first emerged . . . the Hong Kong Sevens. I don't want to send an unrepresentative side, one that will get wiped out by those countries more in tune with sevens.' The English clubs had initially agreed to release players for the International Rugby Board-backed World Sevens Series, which began in Dubai last month.

However, it is known that the plan had been derailed after the clubs asked for a GBP350,000 compensation package from the RFU to cover salaries.

With the English clubs heavily involved in European and domestic rugby, and with the Six Nations tournament set to start, the availability of players has always proved to be the major stumbling block in the HKRFU's crusade to get England here.

But despite the tight schedule, Ireland, Scotland, France and Italy from the Six Nations will appear at the Hong Kong Stadium. Wales have turned down their invitation.

The Hong Kong Sevens will be the eighth leg in the 10-stop World Sevens Series, which currently has Fiji and New Zealand sharing top spot in the standings.

'Recognising our status, the IRB has increased the championship points for winning the Hong Kong Sevens,' said Duncan.

Defending champions Fiji, however, might not be all that pleased to hear that the winners' purse has been reduced by US$20,000. The HKRFU has cut the total prize money from US$510,000 to $150,000 with the winners receiving $100,000. Plate and Bowl winners will not receive any prize money this year.

Meanwhile, tickets will go on sale from today at the Star Ferry in Central. The Stadium box office will be selling tickets on Saturday and every weekend after that.

TEAMS Arabian Gulf, Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Croatia, England (to be confirmed), Fiji, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Samoa, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, United States.