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Preview: HSBC Sevens, Hong Kong

22nd March 2012 10:06

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Hong Kong Sevens: Fans soak up the atmosphere at last year's event

Hong Kong is the sixth stop of the HSBC Sevens World Series, which also doubles as a 'core team' qualifying event for the 2012/13 championship.

A 12-team core team competition will contest the Cup, Plate and Bowl with points being awarded in the Sevens World Series standings, with Argentina, Australia, England, Fiji, France, Kenya, New Zealand, Samoa, Scotland, South Africa, USA and Wales set to compete in pools A, B and C for the famous Hong Kong title

A separate qualification tournament will be held for the remaining 12 teams in Pools D, E and F. The top three finishers gain automatic entry to the Sevens World Series next season.

The change in format in Hong Kong also makes the competition between the current 12 core teams more intense than ever. With no 'easy' match-ups every game is a potential knock-out tie.

"Quite simply, it is the toughest, most competitive ever Hong Kong tournament," said England coach, Ben Ryan.

"But it is still Hong Kong, still a special place, still six games over three days. It is all systems go."

World Series leaders New Zealand are favourites to retain their Hong Kong Sevens crown this weekend but face a tough pool including South Africa and Wales.

New Zealand are on 92 points, their closest challengers Fiji are on 87 while South Africa have 76 and England are fourth with 74 points. But with unpredictability a feature of Sevens, the table could look very different by the end of the weekend.

The Kiwis are seeking their 11th triumph at the most high-profile Sevens event in the world, but coach Gordan Tietjens said his side faced a tough battle to hold on to their title in Hong Kong - the sixth stop in the nine-leg series.

"There is always pressure to perform, especially Hong Kong. It is one of the toughest draws in Hong Kong during all the years I have been coaching," he said.

"There are no easy games in the pool stage and we need to play our strongest team in every game and some players may not get as much game time as they normally might."

Samoa, who lie fifth (with 69 points) in the Series standings, stunned New Zealand with a last-gasp victory in the final of the USA leg of the World Series last month.

The Round Five triumph was Samoa's first since the 2010 Scotland Sevens - where they were also crowned 2009/10 World Series champions - and has given Stephen Betham's side motivation ahead of this weekend's tournament.

"The victory in Las Vegas was a big boost, the boys have been rejuvenated," said Betham.

"It has put a lot of positive in the team, especially for the young boys who are feeling a lot more confident than they did before that victory and now we want to push on here in Hong Kong."

Traditional powerhouses such as Fiji, who have won a record 12 times in Hong Kong - including two world cup wins - are also favourites for an unprecedented 13th Cup win.

But New Zealand remain the team to beat, despite the challenge from the likes of South Africa - who have never struck gold in Hong Kong - and Wales, who will be lifted by the Six Nations win by their 15-a-side counterparts.

Pools:

Cup competition (current core teams):
Pool A: Samoa, England, Argentina, Kenya
Pool B: New Zealand, South Africa, Wales, United States
Pool C: Fiji, Australia, France, Scotland

Core team qualifier:
Pool D: Tonga, Uruguay, Hong Kong, China
Pool E: Canada, Spain, Zimbabwe, Philippines
Pool F: Portugal, Russia, Japan, Guyana

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Pool A
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PosTeamPPts
1New Zealand420
2France411
3Tonga49
4Canada46
5Japan42