Hong Kong Sevens: Sonny Bill Williams to return at rugby's biggest party

Story highlights

  • Hong Kong hosts annual sevens jamboree
  • 2015 champion Fiji seeks record 16th title
  • Sonny Bill Williams returns after knee injury
  • NZ star hoping to play at Rio Olympics

(CNN)Sore heads, bruised bodies, aching muscles -- and that's just the spectators.

The annual Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament is famed for its high-spirited fans in fancy dress fueled by generous helpings of booze.
    Amid the carnival atmosphere in the stands, though, it's sometimes easy to forget about all the spectacular action on the pitch.
    The jewel in the crown of the Sevens World Series, Hong Kong is where all the stars of the shortened format want to strut their stuff -- and ex-Baywatch star David Hasselhoff is this year's tournament ambassador.
    "I start to get goosebumps when you talk about the atmosphere in Hong Kong," Fijian sevens legend Waisele Serevi told CNN.
    "I always want to come here -- it gives you more energy. Even when you are tired, it gives you more energy. Even if you have some pain, or knee injury or arm injury, whatever ... when you hear the people shouting when you are running onto the field you feel a lot of energy -- you want to perform."
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    Serevi, who won seven Hong Kong Sevens titles and was voted player of the tournament four times, was arguably the game's greatest star during a playing career that spanned almost two decades.
    Today, the Fijians remain the biggest draw and the team to beat in sevens, especially in Hong Kong -- the reigning champions have won the title a record 15 times since the tournament started in 1976.
    Fiji also leads the World Series standings after six rounds -- but only just, topping the table on 106 points, one point ahead of closest rival South Africa, with New Zealand another point back.
    The All Black Sevens led by coach Gorden Tietjens will be looking to carry the good form of recent tournaments into Hong Kong -- the Kiwis have won three of the last four rounds in the 2015-16 series, most recently at last month's Vancouver Sevens.

    Sonny Bill fever?

    One of the undoubted draws for this weekend's crowd -- which routinely tops 120,000 over three days -- will be Sonny Bill Williams.
    New Zealand's dual-code international, who has played in World Cup finals in both 13-man league and more recently 15-man union, is seeking to represent his country at August's Rio 2016 Olympics sevens tournament.
    "I know I'm still a rookie, but (sevens) has lit a fire inside of me that I know I won't be able to put out anytime soon," Williams says.
    "The first game I started I was was just chasing everything and I blew myself out.
    "The amount of running in sevens compared to 15s is probably about three times as much, maybe four times -- there's a big emphasis on recovery."
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    Williams made his sevens debut on home soil in Wellington in January, when New Zealand triumphed in the final against South Africa despite his error costing a try.
    "The thing I need to learn is also that those 50/50 passes can go either way -- one mistake can lead to a try."
    As one of the modern rugby's superstars, the 30-year-old can expect a riotous reception from the hordes of fans at the Hong Kong Stadium.

    Olympic goal

    He is returning to action after sitting out the last two rounds with a knee injury, and Hong Kong could be a make-or-break weekend for his Olympic ambitions -- though
    Tietjens is being patient with his high-profile star.
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    "You just cannot make the transition in a short space of time. You've got to play world series tournaments," Tietjens, who has coached New Zealand to 10 Sevens World Series titles, told reporters this week.
    "He's a great example for all the younger players who come into the sevens environment and that's what's really special about him. He just sets such high standards. It's just great for the environment."
    Williams is under no illusions about the task ahead.
    "Obviously to make that squad at the end of the year is not going to be an easy feat -- there are some talented, talented players. I've just to to keep training hard and keep learning."
    The Hong Kong Sevens faithful will look forward to observing his progress this weekend.
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