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40 Years of the Hong Kong Sevens

Brazen behaviour: how fans like to party hard at Hong Kong Sevens

IN PICTURES: 40 years of the Hong Kong Sevens - part 5 (1996-2000). Join us for an eight-part romp through the SCMP archives charting how the world-famous event became such a success

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 March, 2015, 9:06am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 March, 2015, 10:36am

From humble beginnings in 1976, the Hong Kong Sevens has grown into the city's leading sports event, famed throughout the world. This year, as the tournament celebrates 40 years, we're taking a ride through the SCMP archives to see how the event became the jewel in the sevens crown. 

And if you see yourself or a friend in any of the pictures in our eight-part series, click here to enter your best memories of the Sevens and the most original/entertaining answers will win a pair of three-day tickets to this year’s Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens from March 27-29. 

We begin part 5 in 1996, the first Sevens since rugby went professional. And it was the first year of the three-day format as it continued to expand.

Christian Cullen was the star of the show, the New Zealand flying machine ripping defences apart as the Kiwis made it three wins in a row. They beat Fiji 19-17 in another edition of their rivalry.

Cullen, with a record 18 tries and 136 points over the weekend was, unsurprisingly, player of the tournament.

He would go on to star for the All Blacks XVs team, another from the Sevens pipeline.

 DON'T MISS: Part 1 of our look through the archives

The 1997 tournament was actually the second Rugby Sevens World Cup, as it was deemed impractical to host the World Cup and a separate Hong Kong Sevens tournament. 

One of the all-time greats, Waisale Serevi, inspired Fiji to victory over reigning XVs world champions South Africa, 24-21. The Springboks, led by the inspirational Joost van der Westhuizen, took a 14-0 lead, but the Fijians reeled them back in a superb performance. 

Hong Kong - playing for the last time as the "Colony" team - fielded a local Chinese player for the first time, Chan Fuk-ping, but they lost to Tonga in the final of the Plate. 

Off the pitch, an unnamed expat fan made front page news in the SCMP for throwing a beer over Chris Patten, a soggy end to his last Sevens as Hong Kong governor. "Who's Chris Patten?" he said. "I'm only here to watch the rugby."

DON'T MISS: Part 2 of our look through the archives

The first post-handover tournament in 1998 saw a China national team take part for the first time. But their debut was a painful one, hammered 69-0 by Samoa in their first game. 

Amid the uncertainties over the handover and the Asian financial crisis, a last-minute sponsor had to be found as the original one went bust.

The Home Unions snubbed the tournament, the big-name Southern Hemisphere players stayed away, and it wasn't a sellout, all adding up to potentially worrying times, though the event rode out this rough patch.

Waisale Serevi made it five wins from 10 visits to Hong Kong as Fiji beat Samoa 28-19 in the final, though there was some controversy when they drafted in Bruce Rauqe - who started the tournament playing for Australia after falling out with the Fiji management - for the deciding match.

DON'T MISS: Part 3 of our look through the archives

In 1999 it was the Fijians partying yet again as they beat old foes New Zealand 21-12. Marika Vunibaka, top scorer with 12 tries in the tournament, grabbed a brace in the final. 

Meanwhile, the success of Sevens and Hong Kong's role as innovators was recognised as the IRB founded the World Series, though Hong Kong were disgruntled not to be named as hosts of the final leg. On the pitch, the team enjoyed some success winning the Bowl.

Fiji were finally dethroned in 2000, and it was no great surprise that it was at the hands of New Zealand. At this stage, the two giants had won 11 of the past 12 tournaments.

Eric Rush, New Zealand's veteran skipper, declared it "one of my best wins here", in his 13th appearance. 

DON'T MISS: Part 4 of our look through the archives

Roll of Honour:

1976 Cantabrians (New Zealand) 24 - Wallaroos (Australia) 8 

1977 Fiji 28 - Marlborough (New Zealand) 18

1978 Fiji 14 - Manawatu (New Zealand) 10

1979 Australia 39 - Western Samoa 3 

1980 Fiji 12 - Scottish Co-optimists 8

1981 Barbarians 12 - Australia 10

1982 Australia 18 - Scottish Border 14 

1983 Australia 14 - Fiji 4

1984 Fiji 26 - New Zealand 0

1985 Australia 24 - Public School Wanderers 10

1986 New Zealand 32 French Barbarians 12

1987 New Zealand 12 Fiji 6

1988 Australia 13 New Zealand 12

1989 New Zealand 22 Australia 10

1990 Fiji 22 New Zealand 10

1991 Fiji 18 New Zealand 14 

1992 Fiji 22 New Zealand 6

1993 Western Samoa 14 Fiji 12

1994 New Zealand 32 Australia 30

1995 New Zealand 35 Fiji 17

1996 New Zealand 19 Fiji 17

1997 Fiji 24 South Africa 21 (World Cup)

1998 Fiji 28 Samoa 19

1999 Fiji 21 New Zealand 12

2000 New Zealand 31 Fiji 5 

Don't forget to enter here if you see yourself or a friend in the first five of our eight-part photo series. 

Part 6 is on Friday.