THE prophetic words that headlined a report in the South China Morning Post of March 26, 1976, tell the whole story of the Hong Kong Sevens - how an idea fired the imagination of the world. The tournament, which has now become the most popular get-together in the rugby world, was then mooted as a possible ''World Cup'' event. Now, those words have been realised with Hong Kong being awarded the second World Cup Sevens in 1997. Indeed, if not for the Hong Kong Sevens there would not be a World Cup. The tournament has been significantly responsible for giving the abbreviated game the exposure and style of rugby by which sevens is now universally measured. From humble beginnings at the Hong Kong Football Club, this festival of football now plays annually to full houses at the Hong Kong Government Stadium. Next year, a new 40,000-seat stadium will be jam-packed with fans. For thrilling rugby, the Hong Kong Sevens has no peer. Ever since 12 teams were invited to the first tournament in 1976 - won by New Zealand side Cantabrians who defeated the Australian Wallaroos 24-8 - the action has continued fast and furious. Today, 24 teams are invited to the event every year. The original objective of the tournament - to promote the game in Asia - still holds good as organisers unfailingly invite the minnows back. It is the once-in-a-lifetime chance for players from the smaller nations to come up against rugby greats. The post-tournament dinner for the players is unique in world rugby. Nowhere else in the world do the big names and the unknown, rub shoulders with one another in a spirit of camaraderie. It was a spirit born when the late Tokkie Smith and Ian Gow met for a pre-lunch drink at the Hong Kong Club. Little did they know that their idea would blossom into one of the most popular tournaments in the world.