History was made at the Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2023 as New Zealand became the first-ever women’s champions of an HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournament in Hong Kong.
The Black Ferns Sevens edged a thrilling Cup final against Australia, before the All Blacks Sevens made it a New Zealand double as the rain came down at Hong Kong Stadium.
In claiming the tournament titles, the New Zealand teams maintained their commanding positions at the top of the men’s and women’s standings.
There were also impressive performances from Great Britain and Spain, as well as Australia’s Charlotte Caslick and Perry Baker of the USA. We recap seven things we learned from an enthralling weekend.
Waaka points the way for Black Ferns Sevens
Following an historic weekend in Hong Kong, it seems only a matter of time before the Black Ferns Sevens are confirmed as women’s Series champions for a seventh time.
A fifth successive tournament victory for New Zealand – achieved for the first time in a single women’s Series – was confirmed on Sunday as the smiling assassin, Stacey Waaka inspired her side to a 26-17 Cup final win against Australia.
Waaka was the star of the tournament for the Black Ferns Sevens, scoring eight tries, including two in the final. The second of that double was the pick of the lot as she stepped off her right foot to leave the defender flat-footed.
Victory leaves New Zealand only needing to reach the quarter-finals at the final event in Toulouse next month to wrap up another Series title.
Carter, Rokolisoa power All Blacks Sevens
It was a ‘black-out’ in Hong Kong as New Zealand’s men claimed their third tournament victory in four events on the 2023 Series to extend their lead at the top of the standings to 21 points.
Just as in Los Angeles at the end of February, it was a win built on the tries of Leroy Carter, who finished the weekend with five, including one in the Cup final against Fiji.
Akuila Rokolisoa chipped in with three and was the tournament top scorer with 33 points at Hong Kong Stadium, to become the first player to break through the 300-point barrier on the 2023 Series.
With only three tournaments remaining on the 2023 Series, starting with this weekend in Singapore, the All Blacks Sevens have put themselves in a commanding position.
Norman-Bell caps fine weekend for Great Britain
Isla Norman-Bell produced a wonderful last-gasp finish to score the try that earned Great Britain a first-ever bronze medal on the Series.
Her first try in Hong Kong came at a good time. By haring through a gap and racing away to the corner, Norman-Bell halted the Fijiana comeback and kept Great Britain in the race for Olympic qualification.
Great Britain’s men came within three minutes of emulating their female counterparts, however, Stephen Parez’s late try secured a 19-17 win for France in their bronze final.
Three teams vie for final women’s Olympic ticket
With only one tournament remaining on the women’s Series, the contest for the fourth and final automatic ticket to Paris 2024 could not be closer.
Australia and the USA both joined New Zealand in qualifying for next year’s Games by virtue of their performances in Hong Kong this weekend.
But we still do not know the identity of the fourth team who will join them in the French capital.
Ahead of next month’s finale, only four points separate the three contenders. Ireland had looked in the driving seat but a disappointing first tournament for new head coach Allen Temple Jones saw them finish only eighth with semi-finalists Great Britain and Fiji ensuring a tense finish to the Series in Toulouse.
Spain climb men’s standings
Spain were arguably the team of the men’s pool stage at Hong Kong Stadium, beating the USA and Japan to reach the Cup quarter-finals for the first time since London last year.
Their Cup run ended in heart-breaking fashion as William Iraguha scored a late, late try for France. But, although Spain went on to lose their fifth-place semi-final against Argentina, their performance over the weekend was good enough to lift them up the standings.
Thanks to the 10 points they claimed in Hong Kong, Spain have climbed out of the relegation play-off places for the first time this season.
Spain are now 12th on 40 points, one more than Uruguay below them. With only three tournaments to play and Great Britain 32 points ahead of them and Kenya nine further back from Los Teros Sevens, it looks like a straight fight between Spain and Uruguay for guaranteed safety.
Caslick reaches milestone in style
Charlotte Caslick needed only four tries to become the fifth woman to score 150 Series tries – and she achieved that feat with plenty to spare in Hong Kong.
On an uncharacteristically quiet weekend for Maddison Levi, in terms of try-scoring at least, Caslick stepped up, crossing the whitewash nine times.
The Australia captain scored in each of her side’s six matches across three days at Hong Kong Stadium, including a stunning solo effort in the Cup semi-final defeat of Great Britain.
Caslick has now notched 155 Series tries, putting her within two of fourth-placed Amee Leigh Murphy Crowe on the all-time list.
Baker closes gap on Norton
It was not a great weekend for the USA’s men, who bowed out at the Cup quarter-final stage but there was reason to cheer for one of their star performers.
Thanks to his four tries, which all came on day two at Hong Kong Stadium, Perry Baker moved above Collins Injera into second in the list of all-time try-scorers at the tournament.
Baker has now scored 32 tries at the Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, one more than Kenya great Injera and only four fewer than Dan Norton.