Worried All Blacks postpone arrival
Highly concerned New Zealand have pushed back their arrival for next week's Credit Suisse First Boston Hong Kong Sevens by 48 hours due to the pneumonia outbreak and the impending war.
The Kiwis were the first team due to arrive - on Saturday - for the March 28-30 Hong Kong Sevens. But the outbreak of the fast-spreading pneumonia - SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome - has forced the 2003 IRB Sevens leaders to delay their arrival to Monday.
'The decision behind our delay is twofold. One is the pneumonia outbreak and the other is the war,' said New Zealand sevens coach Gordon Tietjens yesterday. 'We are all very concerned with both issues and want some more time to see what the clear picture is.'
The number of pneumonia cases in Hong Kong had risen to 145 yesterday. Three new deaths have also been reported although medical authorities are unsure if a couple of them were related to the disease.
The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union yesterday stressed that the annual sevens showpiece was in no danger of being postponed or cancelled. A senior official said the tournament would go ahead and had received support from the International Rugby Board.
'The IRB has reassured all unions taking part in the Hong Kong Sevens that it is safe to travel to Hong Kong. We have also passed on an assurance from the World Health Organisation and the US Centre for Disease Control [CDC] which says it is safe to travel,' said Allan Payne, HKRFU executive director.
'We are continuing to monitor the situation on a daily basis through the Hong Kong Government Health Authority and internationally through WHO [the World Health Organisation]. The management of participating teams have also been advised of the current situation and are being kept constantly updated as to the local status and measures currently in place for the Sevens,' a press statement issued by the HKRFU said.
But Tietjens admitted there was growing concern in New Zealand and that it was the reason behind the delay of the Kiwis who are seeded number one at the 24-team tournament.
The Kiwis have traditionally been the first team to arrive in Hong Kong, normally seven to eight days in advance. A training squad are currently in camp and Tietjens is expected to pick his 12-strong squad for Hong Kong today.
In Wellington, acting deputy chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union Steve Tew said the outbreak was a cause for concern and the Union would consider sending an extra doctor with the squad.
'It's not to be taken lightly,' Tew was quoted as saying in the New Zealand Herald. 'We'll be talking to the Ministry of Health and the International Rugby Board people in Asia. We want to make sure that the risk is manageable or we will reconsider sending a team.'
The HKRFU in its statement said: 'The IRB has been in contact with the WHO. Neither the WHO nor the CDC has issued a recommendation for people to restrict travel to Hong Kong or Beijing. The HKRFU has not received any notification of teams wishing to withdraw and at present is not prepared to speculate on possible scenarios, but will maintain its responsibility to monitor the situation on a daily basis. The preparations for this year's CSFB Hong Kong Sevens are continuing.'
The Australian Rugby Union has also been in contact with the HKRFU. 'We are monitoring the situation but at this stage we're still sending a team,' an ARU spokesman said.
Meanwhile, Fiji and Wales announced their teams yesterday. Fiji will be missing their mercurial star Waisale Serevi who has not been considered due to his club commitments in France. The Fijians have instead opted for local talent in a bid to win the Hong Kong crown won by England last year.
British and Irish Lions wing Dafydd James was the star pick of the Welsh squad who are pooled with hosts Hong Kong, Australia and China in the preliminary round.
Fiji: Sireli Bobo, Manasa Bola, Filimoni Bolavucu, Jone Daunivucu, Mesake Davu, Jope Ledua, Sailosi Naiteqe, Raymond Rodan, Nasoni Rokobiau, Kiniviliame Salabogi, Semisi Saukawa, Sakaraia Tui.
Wales: Daffyd James, Gareth Gravell, Gareth Williams, Liam Roberts, Llyr Lane, Craig Richards, Paul Jones, Nicky Jones, Taliesin Selley, Andy Powell, Andy Williams, Ken Morris.