Kiwis and England top seedings ahead of draw
'All teams are more versed in the game. It will be the most competitive ever'
High-flying New Zealand and England will be the top two seeds when the draw for next month's tournament takes place this evening in Central with International Rugby Board (IRB) chairman Dr Syd Millar in attendance.
The rampant Kiwis, who have won the last three tournaments in this season's IRB Sevens, will be billed as the outright favourites and as such will get top seeding for the March 18-20 tournament at the sold-out Hong Kong Stadium.
England, winners of the past three Hong Kong Sevens, will be the number two seeds. They will be drawn in separate halves of the draw and will only meet if they progress to the Cup final.
'It will be a case of 'lucky eight'. To win the World Cup, a team will have to play eight games, which is two more than what is needed to win the Hong Kong Sevens.
'There will be a total of 81 matches at the World Cup compared to 67 games normally. It will be more action,' said Allan Payne, Hong Kong Rugby Football Union executive director.
The 24 teams will be drawn into four pools of six. There will be eight seeded teams based on their performances at the last six tournaments in the IRB Sevens - that is the first four from the 2004-05 series (Dubai, George, Wellington and Los Angeles) and the last two from the 2003-04 series (Bordeaux and London).
Apart from New Zealand and England, the other seeded teams will be Fiji (3), Argentina (4), South Africa (5), Australia (6), Samoa (7) and Scotland (8). All these teams are regulars on the IRB Sevens circuit.
'After the preliminary round robin competition on the first two days, the top two teams from each pool will progress into the Melrose Cup competition. The next two teams will enter the Plate while the bottom two will vie for the Bowl,' said IRB Sevens manager Mark Egan.
'This will be the toughest World Cup yet. Last time, in 2001, the IRB Sevens series was just one year old but four years down the line, all teams are more versed in the game and more prepared.
'It will be the most competitive World Cup ever.'
Injured Football Club forward Tim O'Connor has been given time to recover from a knee injury as Hong Kong cut their 20-strong squad down to 14 players yesterday. O'Connor, who injured his knee during the SAR squad's training camp in New Zealand last week, will have to prove his fitness before the IRB's March 7 deadline for countries to name their 12 players for the World Cup.
'We have cut the squad down to 14 players, but we have also accounted for the injury suffered by Tim O'Connor and given him time to recover,' said Hong Kong head coach Ivan Torpey.
The unlucky five who were cut after the week-long training camp in the Bay of Plenty region are Anthony Boyd, Jason Going, Andy Yuen, Brett Forsyth and Justin Gregory.
Hong Kong squad: Tom Cameron, Ricky Cheuk Ming-yin, Paul Dingley, Alex Gibbs, Rob Naylor, Warren Warner, Alex Zenovic, Andrew Chambers, Nigel D'Acre, Paul Gaffney, Paul Morehu, Rowan Varty, Andrew Wong Kee, Kris Marin.