March Madness Hong Kong Style

26 03 2013

Hong Kong is much more than a global financial center, and if you need any further proof of that fact you need to visit here in the month of March.  For whether you live in the USA or here in Hong Kong – the end of March signals one thing – March Madness!  The US version of March Madness focuses on NCAA collegiate basketball and runs for 3 weeks.  The Hong Kong version of March Madness takes only three days when the city hosts the premier rugby sevens tournament – the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens.

It’s an action packed weekend, on and off the playing field (pitch).  This year a record number of teams – 28 men’s teams in total – played a record 70 matches in just one weekend. Rugby sevens is a fast-paced version of traditional rugby, with most games lasting no more than 15-20 minutes (two 7-minute halves).   With only seven players per side on the field at a time, quickness, discipline and tackling skill are important keys to success.

Expat fans at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens

Expat fans at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens

But if you have ever attended the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens tournament, then you’ll know that for many people it’s about more than watching the rugby games.  The Hong Kong Sevens has earned a reputation for its carnival-like atmosphere in the stands, where fans not only proudly wave the flags and colors of their home or adopted country, but they also try to dress up in the most outlandish outfits and costumes for the weekend.  Expats from all around Asia and as far away as Great Britain travel to Hong Kong just to be part of the excitement – and it makes for a very international-flavored weekend both in the stands and on the field.

If the games ever get slow or too boring (not likely!), you can always watch the antics of the fans in the South Stands (known for their creative attire and raucous behavior) – never a dull moment there!

This year’s tournament was not only about winning one of the four trophies handed out (1st tier – Cup; 2nd tier -Plate, 3rd tier – Bowl and 4th tier – Shield), but it took on greater significance as teams are looking ahead to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, where rugby sevens will make their debut (do you know the last time rugby was an Olympic sport?).  The teams seemed more evenly matched this year, as evidenced by three of the final four games:  Shield Final – France (19) Argentina (14); Bowl Final – England (42) Hong Kong (7); and Plate Final – Samoa (12) Canada (7).

Action from the Fiji - Wales Cup Final

Action from the Fiji – Wales Cup Final

The heavily watched Cup Final featured returning champions Fiji up against a young and dynamic team from Wales.  With Wales jumping to a quick 19-0 lead by the end of the first half, the Hong Kong stadium roared in anticipation of an upset for the mighty Fiji team.  But from the start of the second half, Fiji showed their experience as they forced the younger Wales team into turnovers and penalties.  They tightened up their attack and half way through the second half the match was tied at 19-19, with Fiji getting the winning try in the final minutes to win the game 26 – 19.

Not to be outdone by the men, Hong Kong also hosted a women’s rugby sevens tournament this week as well, with Canada soundly beating Australia in the final game 29-0!

We decided to stay home and watch the games in the safety and comfort of our apartment this year, as one of the local TV stations broadcasted the games live.  At least they did that up until the penultimate moment of the Cup final between Fiji and Wales. With the game tied and both sides pressing for the winning try, the live broadcast was cut off as the local TV station began their evening news report!  By the time we found the web site for the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, the game was already over – lessening our excitement a bit for this year’s grand finale.

The anticipation of rugby sevens at the next summer Olympics has only increased excitement for next year’s Hong Kong Rugby Sevens – we’re expecting it’ll be another thrilling weekend for all who attend.  In light of that possibility, we may need to start booking our tickets for next year – anyone interested in joining us for some March Madness – Hong Kong style?

Until next time,

Joel & Debbie
(Go Canada! / Go USA!)
Canada US Flags

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