THE ROAR OF the Sevens sharpens the memories of former Valley rugby teammates. When most tournaments kick off, former players call you over for a coffee in the Hong Kong Stadium's Upper East Stand, introduce you to the tall and beautiful young lady who you first knew as a bump, and recall forgotten faces of the past. One was my stepmother's Fiat X1/9. It was a beautiful, black, mid-engined two-seater that in 1985 cornered and handled Route Twisk far better than I would against the Flying Kukris. But for all its 1.5-litre poke and Bertone lines, the X1/9 was still a girly, Italian car for a flanker trying to frighten the Gurkhas in Sek Kong. 'You looked like a girl,' one teammate says, year after year. 'Played like one,' another adds, all too often. It still hurts. Players tend to remember team cars, long after their drivers' fumbled passes and chickened tackles, because motoring and rugby are as tightly bound as two tipsy locks on the South Stand. There'd be no training or matches without them. And when you play such a competitive, classless game, cars tell your clubmates more about you than a few beers will. On away matches, your trusty motor's a friendly face, a tribal space, with a familiar dashboard - mates and music in a distant, hostile territory. History seems to be repeating itself among the Hong Kong Rugby World Cup Sevens squad. Few of its players drive locally, thanks to the efficiencies of public transport and the expense of car ownership in Hong Kong. But they acknowledge their wheels on their road to So Kon Po. 'I tend not to drive to games, as you go on from the game to a restaurant or bar,' says DeA back Andrew Chambers. The 27-year-old British merchant still loves his 'retro-cool' MX-5. 'My father-in-law-to-be owned one,' he says. 'He upgraded to the BMW Z3 and offered us the car at a price we couldn't turn down. I haven't regretted it. It's an awesome investment.' Then there's the practical aspect. Lola Williams, of the women's Sevens squad, praises the Fiat Uno's boot space. Hong Kong Football Club (HKFC) wing-centre Alex Gibbs says a car is a mate magnet. 'Even the unfriendliest of teammates will be your mate to get a lift to the Valley.' The Hong Kong-born 28-year-old Australian public relations consultant drives an old BMW 323. 'I split the costs of the car with my two flatmates,' he says. 'Each of us can say we own a BMW.' He says driving to matches can be a good way to stay off the booze afterwards - although he says he's contemplated crashing his 325 just to avoid fitness tests. 'I sometimes borrow mum's Jag, but she doesn't really like me taking it to training.' Mum's right. Kowloon prop Kris Marin has just shipped his Ferrari 355 back to Australia. The 27-year-old Aussie pilot says he saw it and had to have it. 'It's something about the sound of the Italian engine, the soft touch of the leather, the performance, bright red paint and the cavallino,' the 1.81-metre, 95kg prop says. 'You've got to get there in style and have something that covers up your battered face.' DeA fly-half Rob Naylor drives a Toyota Crown, but the 30-year-old Australian project manager prefers to be driven back from games 'so you can relax and have a few quiet ones'. What role does a car play if you're out to impress? 'For a young bloke in South Africa, it was the biggest part of 'the pull',' says 35-year-old HKFC prop Paul Dingley. But he says those days are far behind him. With three children and a dog, the South African executive now drives a Mercedes-Benz ML 320. You might think HKFC prop Warren Warner's red 1996 Saab 900S would turn a few heads. But the 33-year-old South African sales manager says he heads home to Clearwater Bay after games 'to change the nappies'. Gibbs says his old Bimmer 'hasn't helped in the ladies' department'. His first and favourite car used to attract plenty of attention - but for all the wrong reasons. 'Henry', as he called it, was a mint-condition 1976 Holden Premier station wagon with a 350 Chevy engine he had to warm up and cool down for 10 minutes. Manager Henry Louie, 36, queries the very idea of trying to impress anyone 'with the lingering smell of rugby stuff in your car'. Some cars speak volumes about their owners. 'I played club rugby in Bath and a lot of teammates were labourers,' says Chambers. 'The club car park was like a white-van convention.' Louie's Golf V suggest a liking for precision and reliability. Marin graduated to his 355 via a hunky Holden VK Commodore and a Holden 1981 WB ute. Bad cars - and bad drivers - can affect team performance. Chambers says he wrote off his Citroen Saxo after only one week. The replacement didn't fare too well, either. 'I was given a Vauxhall Corsa,' he says. 'In the rush to get to the game, I lost control on a country lane and mowed down 100 yards of hedge. I whizzed it through the car wash, so the car didn't look half bad. I arrived after kick-off.' Marin recalls a 1976 Datsun Sunny that never made a match on time. Dingley says his friend's Diesel Golf 'literally exploded on the way to a game', and Naylor recalls an errant Mini that left the team starting a big match without a front row. A tight five in the back seats can frighten a team driver as much as the opposition, says Marin. 'People can be intimidated when the rear suspension is touching the ground, because of the weight of the fat boys in the back seat.' Rugby players tend to prefer cars that are soft on stud-raked backs, or are easy to drive with a damaged limb or a stiff neck. Williams recommends automatics, in case of injury. Warner advises players not to 'try to double-clutch when you've broken your ankle - it only makes it worse'. Naylor says the time he drove home with a broken jaw was the quietest trip of his life. Chambers says it's always worth having a friend or sibling at a match - just in case. 'I broke my arm and couldn't change gear,' he says. 'Fortunately, my sister had come to watch and did the gears for me.' Gibbs knew something wasn't quite right one morning after a game. 'My arm had been aching throughout the night and, all of a sudden, I noticed my elbow had dislocated,' he says. 'I drove to Canossa Hospital using my other arm.' Soft music helps soothes the pain of injury. I used to replace the pre-match Status Quo with Neil Young - and nothing beats Elvis in defeat. The Hong Kong squad have similar needs. Chambers likes a faster tune before games, but afterwards he prefers 'something a little more mellow - Maroon Five kind of thing.' Marin says Michael Bolton gets him fired up, every time, while Warner plays Creed before a match - and Andrea Bocelli after. Williams prefers R&B in her car, while Naylor likes a bit of pre-match 50 Cent. Gibbs pumps up with Leftfield or the Black Eyed Peas, and relaxes after with Jack Johnson. The music may be new, but the beat's the same, as my daughter says. Win or lose, this weekend, the Hong Kong squad are amassing memories. Huddled around Gibbs' old Bimmer at Wong Chuk Hang last week, the squad seemed to relish every anticipation of playing today. In 20 years, they'll probably recount the Bimmer's foibles in the Upper East Stand. A couple of seats back will be a group of older players, still droning on about a woossy X1/9 driven by the cleanest pair of shorts in Valley history.