18 Jun 2022

The Algarve Sevens had to, like most of us, patiently endure and overcome the past couple of years' interruptions due to the pandemic, but the 2022 edition of the increasingly popular rugby tournament delivered in many ways this past weekend, and put the Hong Kong Women’s and Men’s sevens team through their paces physically. 

The venue, the Vila Real de Santo Antonio Stadium & Sports complex in Eastern Algarve, is fantastic. It provides two additional nearby fields, and lends itself perfectly to the organiser's ambitions of having a tournament which is social but also offers high-performance teams the desired level of competition and facilities.

Day One of the tournament was competitive throughout in the Men’s Elite competition. The HK men were pooled with national teams (Georgia), as well as professional sevens and invitational teams of high-calibre players. The fact that Hong Kong men was the only one of three national sides to make it through the Cup semi-finals at the Algarve Sevens 2022 - speaks volumes of the talent and opposition on display. Neither Portugal, Georgia, or even the South African Blue Bulls progressed to the knockout Cup games on day two.

The mix of social teams and elite teams means there was a colourful array of playing kits, social tour kits, touring parties, and all manner of sizes, fitness, and ability of players (and fans) on display across the three playing fields. For some, it was perhaps a treasured moment to play against a national sevens team or the 100 World Legends featuring all capped internationals in the vet's tournament. 

The playing teams and staff were well looked after with packed meals, and a plentiful supply of water, while first aid was on hand on all three playing fields throughout. The coffee, cold drinks, pig on a spit, and selection of delicious local cakes were plentiful for fans, while beers and drinks were on sale at the player's lounge opposite the main stand and near the main entrance of the stadium. There was also WiFi on hand at the stadium which was convenient for overseas visitors.

The Saturday night social was a barbecue and live band event on the beach near the Yellow Hotel. It was well attended with fresh sunburns on display, although getting food or drinks did take a while with the mob of costume-wearing rugby teams drawing a crowd of locals and “regular tourists’ alongside the promenade on the busy beach.

Throughout the tournament, at the main field, stadium announcers kept those in attendance informed of upcoming games, although at times, scores were hard to come by and with no scoreboards at the fields, it was sometimes a guessing game for the fans. Things improved by lunchtime on day two, when the Livestream provided live commentary and scores for those watching in-stadium and from afar.

The HK women had several big wins on the first day of the competition, only conceding one try. Despite their ambitions to stay grounded and focused, the loss in the semifinal to eventual Women’s Cup winners Fantastic 7s 12-10 in their first game on the second day was a bitter loss. However, considering the team was a player and converted try down in the opening minute, they showed their resolve in fighting back and very nearly overturned the deficit. There were missed opportunities in the game but these are the lessons that will go far in ensuring the squad grows in experience and resolve.

Sunday was also notably cooler than a blistering hot Saturday, and as the day went on - a steady boisterous and passionate group of fans and players filled the main stand for the Cup play-off games, offering partisan support for the European-based teams. However any player’s skill, big-crunching tackle, or a well-taken try on the field were appreciated with applause and cheers. The traditional sevens rugby renditions of ‘Sweet Caroline’ were naturally sung by the crowd.

The ladies third-place play-off game against another very good French development and touring 7s team, Rugbans. The match again required the girls to dig deep on the main stadium field and turn around an early conceded try to eventually come out on top as 12-7 winners to claim third place. Coach Iain Monaghan had said they managed to rotate and use all allowed 14 players over the two days, and he was happy (on the first day at least) with how they had improved on tour, especially in key areas like kick-offs, the set-piece attack and defence.

The HK men managed a good win in a tight game in their semi-final on Sunday, beating Viator Baabaas 14-5 who themselves had earlier knocked the Portuguese national team out of the tournament in pool play. 

The Men’s Cup final was nervy and tight and the 7-7 full-time score led to a golden point extra-time loss when a penalty try was awarded to Seventise who claimed the Cup. HKRU Head Sevens Coach Paul John didn't bemoan some of the decisions the team endured but rather wants his team to learn from managing the situations better in the future, as there were again opportunities to close the game out.

Despite record-breaking temperatures in Portugal, the teams experienced the kind of high-level competition they were seeking, more so on the second day of the tournament where knockout rugby proved to be bitterly cruel.

The experiences will only help the players, coaches, and management be better prepared for bigger and more important tournaments to come; notably the Asian Sevens Series, Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 and Challenger Series for the men, as well as a delayed Asian Games.

The Algarve Sevens organisers have some lofty but attainable goals for the tournament and they hope it will only continue to grow in the years to come.

By Steve Noble