By Alan Dymock
AS SNOW still blankets parts of the UK, spare a thought for those having to toil in the balmy conditions in Hong Kong.
The latest leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series is underway in the Far East, with the event in Hong Kong to be followed up with a weekend in Tokyo. It is the sixth tournament of the nine in a series where New Zealand are already pulling away from nearest challengers South Africa and Samoa in the overall standings.
It is an event with plenty to savour for the home nations, with Wales already beating Australia in their opening leg and England set to meet their northern rivals Scotland in a Pool C clash. But who are the latest stars of the tour?
England’s Dan Norton is in typically lethal form, having scored 22 tries so far, but he is shaded in the listings by versatile winger Cornal Hendricks of South Africa, who has a staggering 25 tries already. Sean Duke of Canada is the surprise joint-second top try-scorer with Norton, with his team having a bit of a breakout year in terms of standings and progress.
New Zealand’s Tomasi Cama routinely tops the list and it is no surprise that the almost omnipresent playmaker is one of the top point-scorers in the series, but even he is second to Fiji’s finisher and kicker Joji Baleviani Raqamate.
If you follow sevens you will be pleased to see names like Collins Injera of Kenya (now coached by Mike Friday) and Lio Lolo of Samoa still hanging in there, as well as Pedro Martin producing the goods for Spain. Terry Bouhraoua continues to be an unpredictable French outfit’s one constant, and the distinctive running of James Fleming is a standout for Scotland.
However, the event is notable for the inclusion of some new forces, with Brazil taking their first bow in the sevens arena as part of their preparation for the Rio 2016 Olympics, where the abbreviated game will be played for the first time. Russia have been keen to get involved recently too, with Moscow hosting the Sevens World Cup this summer.
Both nations, alongside the likes of Uruguay and Hong Kong (involved in the series this weekend), will be hoping for vast improvements. With 12 sides competing in a core team pre-qualifier competition that runs alongside the main World Series tournament a lot is at stake. The top four teams from the pre-qualifier will progress to the London Sevens in May for a chance to qualify as a core team on the 2013-14 Series.
If you only care about the big boys, though, you may be pleased to see how topsy-turvy things have been. It is sevens, after all.
Fiji won the inaugural event in Australia, Samoa triumphing in Dubai and New Zealand continuing the Pacific charge by claiming the South African title. England then defied form by besting Kenya in an entertaining final in Wellington, New Zealand.
In the last round the ever-present New Zealand lost to South Africa. Who will do the business in Hong Kong and Japan? It is hard to tell, with such an unpredictable table – Australia and Scotland do not even feature in the top ten and Welsh fans will be delighted to see they are one place above England – but that makes for an exciting next round.
Coverage of day two starts at 7am on Sky Sports 3.