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Eagles in 1998

The Hong Kong 7s are but one week away, marking the 41st anniversary of this, the grandparent of all the international sevens circuits that came after it. (Melrose, Middlesex and New York sevens’ tournaments came before). So, it’s important to return to 1998, which marked the “new era” of this memorable event.

The pre-tournament apprehension was caused by these substantial changes:

China took over control of Hong Kong from the British after the long lease expired;

The Asian financial crises reduced available monies;

A loss of continual sponsors, importantly, Cathay Pacific Airlines that had been instrumental promoting the venue; and

The absence of teams from England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland was thought to diminish potential ex-pat appeal in the territory.

But none of these problems generated much of a negative impact on Hong Kong ’98. Credit Suisse First Boston assumed the main sponsorship (to 2000), eleven of the previous event’s top twelve teams returned, and, 76,000 fans filled the stadium during the two-and-half days (37,200 for the final.)

Twenty-four teams played in six pools of four sides each. Eight advanced into the Cup round, won by Fiji, led by Waisale Servi, which defeated Western Samoa 28-19 for the trophy. The win earned Fiji $120,000, out of $500,000 in prize money.

The Eagles went 1-3 in pool play, beating Singapore, and losing to New Zealand and Korea. The USA also lost to Korea in the first round of the Plate contest.

To understand the significant changes in the improvement of sevens globally today, the eight teams in the Hong Kong vying for the Plate that year were Korea, Hong Kong, Tonga, Spain, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea (runners up), Japan, and the USA. Only three (USA, Japan, Spain) play on the 2015/2016 HSBC World Rugby circuit.