Party time at Hong Kong Sevens

With the second day of the Hong Kong Sevens completed, Julian Linden experiences the thrills and spills as the quarterfinals are decided on the field and the fans party off it.

10:00 – The party has already started in Hong Kong even though the first matches are still over an hour away from kicking off. The most devoted — dressed in all sorts of crazy outfits — have been camped outside the gates for hours to get into the South Stand. It is the epicentre of the party and really is a sight to behold. We’ll keep a close eye on how the patrons fare throughout the day. As always, tickets for the stadium are completely sold out, so thousands of people are heading to other venues around the city, including HKSEVENS Central at Chater Garden, which has been rocking all week long with live entertainment, family activities and all the matches on the big screen.

Fans waiting two hours to enter the South stand. Calvin Kwan/ESPN

11:00 – The beer is already flowing as the first teams run on to the pitch for the opening match. It’s Australia and South Korea and the result is no surprise, as the Aussies win 52-0. There’s a few chants of “Oi Oi Oi” from the lads and lasses from Down Under, but they’ve been drowned out as the crowd joins in the first rendition of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, a favourite at the HKSEVENS. England are next up and they’ve got plenty of supporters in the stands, too, mostly dressed as Knights of the Round Table. They had a bit of a scare from the physical Samoans, before winning 12-10 to advance to the quarterfinals, along with Australia, who they play later to decide the pool winner.

Fans show off their superhero costumes in the South stand. Calvin Kwan/ESPN

12:00 – The outfits people wear seem to get more outrageous each year, but they’re all good-natured. People are dressed as every superhero and fairytale character you can imagine. But just as many have gone for the low-maintenance look — bikinis and shorts — which could pay off later in the day as the heat sets in. Down at HKSEVENS Central, the fans are keeping themselves entertained by trying out the various skills tests and the karaoke machine. The attendant tells me everyone thinks they sound much better after a few drinks, but when they watch their free video link the next day, they may reassess their judgement. On the field, Argentina have beaten Russia 17-12, the United States have held on to defeat Scotland 19-14 — in a titanic struggle — and New Zealand have thrashed Japan 40-14. All three winners are safely through to the knockout phase.

Fans in the South Stand at the Hong Kong Sevens. Calvin Kwan/ESPN

13:00 – The South Stand is in full roar now — although they seem more interested in seeing their faces on the giant screen than the rugby — but everyone’s favourite team, Fiji, has just come out, so all eyes are back on the pitch. The Pacific Islanders are a little off their game today and have been held to a 17-17 draw by Wales, whose supporters have found their voice right on cue as the PA blasts out Tom Jones’ Delilah and everyone joins in. Canada have been one of the big surprises of the tournament. They’ve just beaten France 28-14 to qualify for the quarters along with South Africa, after the BlitzBoks accounted for Kenya 35-10.

Kids cheer during the players’ parade. Calvin Kwan/ESPN

14:00 – Madness are in the house. There’s an hour break between matches to give the players a chance to catch their breath, but the carnival atmosphere inside the stadium is showing no signs of slowing down. They’ve just erected a stage in the middle of the field for the headline performers — the British ska band who had a string of big hits in the mid-1980s. Most of the kids don’t know the words to their songs, but the adults are having no problems bellowing out the lyrics to ‘Our House’, ‘One Step Beyond’ and ‘It Must Be Love’. Unfortunately for members of the media, a press conference has been called with the heads of World Rugby to announce the dates of next year’s World Cup Sevens, to be held in San Francisco from July 20-22.

Madness performing at the centre of the pitch. Calvin Kwan/ESPN

15:00 – Madness get a standing ovation as they pack up after finishing off their set, but there’s plenty more live entertainers playing at various points around the stadium, including cover bands of the Beatles and Rolling Stones. An even bigger hit are the Cathay Pacific air stewards who have been making random appearances around the ground, dancing and singing along to each of the bands while an acrobatic team is performing somersaults during breaks in play. There are no somersaults in the South Stand as the Spidermen, Snow Whites and Storm Troopers keep chugging away on their beers. On the field, Samoa have beaten South Korea 22-12 and Australia have edged out England 12-10 in a thriller. With both teams already qualified for the quarterfinals, there wasn’t that much at stake, but the old rivals went at each other from the opening whistle and the crowd loved every minute of it. “You always want to beat the Poms,” the Aussie coach Andy Friend tells me. The English coach Simon Amor concurs: “It’s England versus Australia,” he explains. “And it’s a wonderful Sevens environment, so people get inspired by the crowd. It really was a full-throttle kind of affair.”

Fans in the South stand show off their costumes. Calvin Kwan/ESPN

16:00 – The Donald Trump, Barack Obama and Kim Jong Il lookalikes who caused such a commotion at the fan walk on Friday have just appeared on the giant screens in the stadium, boogeying away to DJ Otzi’s ‘Hey Baby’, which is one song the kids in the crowd do seem to know. There’s plenty of swaggering happening in the stands as well now, but I must say I’m impressed by the stamina of these patrons. Officials say they usually sell around 200,000 pints of beer over the tournament, which works out to be about eight per person, but the real average is much higher because that doesn’t take into account all the kids and non-drinkers, or the 60,000 glasses of Pimms and 10,000 glasses of wine that are also consumed. Back to the rugby. Russia have beaten Scotland 14-5 and the U.S., who seem to have almost as many supporters as the Fijians, have trounced Argentina 33-5. So that means Sunday’s first two quarterfinals are now decided: Australia vs. Argentina; England vs. U.S.

Fans watching a game at the Charter Garden Centre. Calvin Kwan/ESPN

17:00 – Wales have beaten Japan 34-21, but it’s not enough for them to make the quarters, as Fiji beat New Zealand 17-14 in a real heavyweight clash that turned the attention back to the rugby. New Zealand almost pinched the win with a last-minute try, but it was disallowed for a forward pass. Their supporters let out a big collective moan, but it’s forgotten straight away as Gangnam Style echoes over the loudspeakers. Kenya beat France 29-12 and South Africa win the last game of the World Series competition, beating Canada 26-7. That means South Africa play New Zealand and Canada face Fiji in the other two quarterfinals. The teams that didn’t make it go into the consolation events, so they will be back again on Sunday as well.

Fans move to Lan Kwai Fong post match. Calvin Kwan/ESPN

18:00 – There are still four more matches in the second-tier qualifying tournament to be played, but plenty of fans have started heading towards the exit doors. A few are looking a little weary after a full day of partying and there’s plenty of croaky voices from all the singing, but for most the party it is just shifting venues. There are literally thousands of bars and restaurants in Hong Kong and the tournament organisers have done deals with hundreds of them to offer discounts, so the celebrations are sure to continue long into the night. And there’s still another full day of rugby tomorrow. No wonder they call this the place where the world comes to play!

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