(CNN)Toweling his brow in a back room, away from the action on the final day of the Hong Kong Sevens, Bryan Habana reflects on his first time at the world-famous event.
“What a virgin experience it’s been!” says the former Springboks hero.Habana has spent his final day here racing kids, getting tackled and throwing a ball around as part of sevens series sponsor HSBC’s Try Rugby initiative.Alongside the Hong Kong Rugby Union, the scheme is designed to get the game on more school curriculums here and encourage more children to play the game. Over the last few years, Try Rugby has introduced some 20- to 30,000 kids to the sport, according to Habana. Read MoreREAD: From Fiji to fancy dress, how rugby fell in love with the Hong Kong SevensREAD: Lion bite rugby player pays tribute to surgeon who saved his handHowever, it is the ex-wing who has felt like a wide-eyed child for most of the weekend.He goes on: “Coming into the city on Wednesday night there’s an immediate energy you feel, driving in from the airport. “You watch this tournament on TV, growing up, and you saw the greats — the Jonah Lomus, the Christian Cullens, the Eric Rushes and Waisale Serevis — who became icons of this tournament. “Hong Kong is the home of (modern) sevens rugby and to see the sport grow since the tournament has been on the go, to experience the atmosphere, that South Stand madness, has been special. Photos: Hong Kong SevensIt’s perhaps the biggest party in the world of sport… Hide Caption 1 of 11 Photos: Hong Kong SevensThe annual Hong Kong Sevens, which this year was held from April 5-7, is loved by rugby fans and players alike, regularly attracting as many as 120,000 spectators.Hide Caption 2 of 11 Photos: Hong Kong SevensAsked about the key to enjoying the event, comedian Al Murray once said: “You just have to hand yourself over and not worry about what time of day or night it might be.”Hide Caption 3 of 11 Photos: Hong Kong SevensNo wonder there is a saying in Hong Kong: “If you ever get bored of the sevens, you can turn around and watch the rugby.”Hide Caption 4 of 11 Photos: Hong Kong SevensThe Hong Kong Sevens dates back to 1976, with Fiji boasting more wins than any other country. The island nation picked up a record fourth-straight victory at the 2018 tournament.Hide Caption 5 of 11 Photos: Hong Kong SevensFrom small beginnings, it’s now a truly global affair, with 28 teams in total at the ground this year.Hide Caption 6 of 11 Photos: Hong Kong Sevens”What is incredibly special is that the city shuts down for it,” says England sevens veteran James Rodwell, describing the sight of rugby-hungry fans in the stadium for three whole days as “humbling.”Hide Caption 7 of 11 Photos: Hong Kong SevensWorld famous for the atmosphere it generates, the Hong Kong South Stand does not stop jumping all weekend. Hide Caption 8 of 11 Photos: Hong Kong SevensFancy dress is a must. Hide Caption 9 of 11 Photos: Hong Kong SevensWith the 40,000 seater stadium a vibrant mix of color and noise, Hong Kong’s atmosphere has set a precedent for other World Series tournaments, most notably London and Las Vegas. Hide Caption 10 of 11 Photos: Hong Kong Sevens”I start to get goosebumps when you talk about the atmosphere in Hong Kong,” says Fijian sevens legend Waisele Serevi, who competed at the event on a number of occasions. What are your favorite memories of the Hong Kong Sevens? Have your say on CNN Sport’s Facebook pageHide Caption 11 of 11“To be with HSBC and guys like George Gregan and Brian O’Driscoll, who are legends in their own right, they also have some interesting stories to tell about Hong Kong! “I haven’t quite surpassed Brian’s crowd surfing on his first tour here, but it’s been epic. The vibe, the energy and the passion of the crowd is something remarkable.” The Bok great has been impressed by the athletes involved in the sporting spectacle — and it is an historic leg of the Sevens World Series, with Fiji men winning here for the fifth year in a row and Brazil women displaying true legacy by winning their qualifier event to be on the full-time circuit next season, almost four years after hosting the Olympic Games in Rio. Ireland men also win their qualifier, an emotional moment for a national side that spent years in the sevens wilderness.The action is often jaw-slackeningly frenetic. Habana never had the chance to play here, but there is a hint of jealousy. Yet as the South African mentions the South Stand there, you may get a flash of recognition — isn’t that the crazy, packed-out stand, with everyone in costume? Is it noisy?You don’t know the half of it.’Bucket list’As he is asked whether he’s seen anything like this before, a smile darts across athletics icon Michael Johnson’s face. “I follow the sevens and I’ve been to Dubai before, but no, this is my first time at the Hong Kong Sevens.”The four-time Olympic gold medalist is in Hong Kong to work with the event’s official charity partner, Laureus, to help with their Sport for Good programs. READ: Fiji beats France to win record fifth straight Hong Kong titleREAD: From tattoos to hi-tech loos, your travel guide to the Rugby World Cup in JapanBut the charity’s box shares a corner with the South Stand. What Johnson does not mention is that just seconds before, there was pandemonium in there.Set to the soundtrack of Bohemian Rhapsody, cup after cup of (presumably) beer is sent into the skies — voices rise even higher. “Nothing really matters” seems like an all-too-fitting lyric for the carefree crowd. Photos: Dress to impress for the Hong Kong SevensThe Hong Kong Sevens event is known for its party atmosphere in the stands as much as for its entertainment on the pitch. It forms part of the Rugby Sevens World Series.Hide Caption 1 of 17 Photos: Dress to impress for the Hong Kong Sevens1989 – Dating back over 40 years ago, it is one of the most iconic events on the rugby calendar, with everyone — even the referees (pictured) — willing to embrace the tournament’s festive spirit.Hide Caption 2 of 17 Photos: Dress to impress for the Hong Kong Sevens1992 – Those novelty sunglasses won’t always be needed — the weather can be unpredictable, with heavy rain often the forecast across the three-day event.Hide Caption 3 of 17 Photos: Dress to impress for the Hong Kong Sevens1992 – … but the fans are willing to dress accordingly.Hide Caption 4 of 17 Photos: Dress to impress for the Hong Kong Sevens2001 – The crowd at the competition routinely tops 120,000 over the three days.Hide Caption 5 of 17 Photos: Dress to impress for the Hong Kong Sevens2001 – The 40,000-seater Hong Kong Stadium is regularly at full capacity. Hide Caption 6 of 17 Photos: Dress to impress for the Hong Kong Sevens2001 – With the addition of a qualifying event, Hong Kong is the largest leg of the series with 28 teams competing over the weekend.Hide Caption 7 of 17 Photos: Dress to impress for the Hong Kong Sevens2004 – Hong Kong’s party atmosphere has set a precedent for other World Series tournaments, most notably London and Las Vegas. Hide Caption 8 of 17 Photos: Dress to impress for the Hong Kong Sevens2004 – It’s the seventh leg of the 10-tournament series, which takes place across six months. Hide Caption 9 of 17 Photos: Dress to impress for the Hong Kong Sevens2006 – This season’s championship, which started in Dubai in November, concludes in Paris in June. Hide Caption 10 of 17 Photos: Dress to impress for the Hong Kong Sevens2007 – Fijian sevens legend Waisele Serevi, who competed at the Hong Kong Sevens on a number of occasions, told CNN that “I start to get goosebumps when you talk about the atmosphere in Hong Kong.” Hide Caption 11 of 17 Photos: Dress to impress for the Hong Kong Sevens2008 – He said that the crowd “gives you more energy. Even when you are tired, it gives you more energy.”Hide Caption 12 of 17 Photos: Dress to impress for the Hong Kong Sevens2009 – “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,” says Serevi.Hide Caption 13 of 17 Photos: Dress to impress for the Hong Kong Sevens2012 – Throughout the years, the array of outfits have never failed to disappoint.Hide Caption 14 of 17 Photos: Dress to impress for the Hong Kong Sevens2012 – With everything from the classic superhero costumes…Hide Caption 15 of 17 Photos: Dress to impress for the Hong Kong Sevens2014 – To the outright weird.Hide Caption 16 of 17 Photos: Dress to impress for the Hong Kong Sevens2016 – Fiji has won the tournament more than any other nation, including the four most recent editions.Hide Caption 17 of 17Every year the South Stands draws fans like a magnet. When Habana says visiting Hong Kong “has been pretty high on the bucket list for some time” he mentions the South Stand in the same breath (him, O’Driscoll and Gregan all downed pints on front of that raucous crowd, naturally).By 9.30am on the Saturday of the sevens, the South Stand is full. No more room. But the queue to get in — should anyone wish to opt out of the party in there — has already formed. At 10am, we talk with ‘Brad’, who won’t reveal his real name, but is identifiable by the Where’s Wally costume he has on. There are a few other Wallys peppered through the line. It’s Brad’s first time. He is prepared to be at the back, just to say he’s been in there. He is optimistic the wait won’t be long. But some of his mates were preparing for this South Stand visit at 6.30am.For the teams that get knocked out of the tournament, in either the main event or the qualifiers, the initial instinct for many is to head towards that stand. When Ireland win their qualifier, many zero in on the section as quickly as possible.Second division?The Little Magician, Serevi, is here, trying to coach the Russian men’s team back into the Sevens World Series. Arguably the greatest sevens player of all time, Serevi knows a thing or two about the game. “I just want to thank Hong Kong rugby, because without the Hong Kong Sevens I believe Sevens couldn’t be in this place,” he tells the South China Morning Post.”They are the ones that have driven it up from being the Hong Kong Sevens, then the Series, then we went to the IOC to bid for rugby, because it’s so interesting, and then now it is in the Olympics.” Photos: 13 locations, 16 tournaments, lots of tries. Vancouver, Canada – South Africa overcame France 21-12 to win its first title of the season. The World Series’ defending champion saw off Argentina and Fiji in the knockout stages before outscoring Les Bleus by three tries to two in the final in Vancouver. Hide Caption 1 of 9 Photos: 13 locations, 16 tournaments, lots of tries. Las Vegas, USA – USA’s trophy drought finally came to an end as the Eagles secured back-to-back titles in Las Vegas, cementing their position at the top of the overall standings midway through the season. A comfortable 27-0 victory over Samoa handed USA the title. Hide Caption 2 of 9 Photos: 13 locations, 16 tournaments, lots of tries. Sydney, Australia – The All Blacks Sevens secured their second title of the season after defeating USA in the final in Sydney. Hide Caption 3 of 9 Photos: 13 locations, 16 tournaments, lots of tries. Sydney, Australia – That added to the Black Ferns’ victory to see New Zealand complete the double in Australia. Hide Caption 4 of 9 Photos: 13 locations, 16 tournaments, lots of tries. Hamilton, New Zealand – Fiji secured back-to-back victories on the World Series after a thumping 38-0 victory over the USA. Jerry Tuwai crossed twice in the final. Hide Caption 5 of 9 Photos: 13 locations, 16 tournaments, lots of tries. Cape Town, South Africa – Fijian players huddle after defeating USA to record their first win of the season in Cape Town. Hide Caption 6 of 9 Photos: 13 locations, 16 tournaments, lots of tries. Dubai, UAE – New Zealand players perform the haka after winning the Dubai Sevens title by defeating USA. Hide Caption 7 of 9 Photos: 13 locations, 16 tournaments, lots of tries. Dubai, UAE – A 26-14 victory over Canada in the women’s final meant New Zealand did the double in Dubai. Hide Caption 8 of 9 Photos: 13 locations, 16 tournaments, lots of tries. Glendale, Colorado – New Zealand’s Black Ferns started the season is style by winning the Glendale Sevens, a new tournament for the 2018-19 season. Hide Caption 9 of 9He is right; Hong Kong often feels like the engine for sevens. Yet, if you are hunting a place at the top of the sport for a full season, as Serevi’s Russia hope to be, there is only one option.Hong Kong hosts the only stand-alone qualifying event. You can plan a whole season around one event that decides your fate for the next term. Many want a second division of the Sevens World Series. Including World Rugby vice-chairman and chairman of sevens, Gus Pichot. “The biggest objective for the next cycle is to have a second competition, and we are working very hard for that,” says Pichot on the second day of competition. “Where it is going to be held is still under discussion and it is part of a broader discussion but we decided in the Executive Committee (ExCo) strategic plan that part of the resources, money, is there to cover the expansion of the circuit for a second tier.”I don’t like to call it a second tier but it would be a different tournament that will provide access to other countries that don’t play regularly and they have a sevens program.”As World Rugby prepare for key strategic meetings in Dublin, many hope that the lesser visited sevens nations get their shot as host. Going greenIn the Laureus box, Johnson smiles again when he says that clearly he would like the USA men to win this event. After all, the Eagles have shaken up the established order this season, leading the table in a season where the top four automatically qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.As you can tell from the accounts of those above, new experiences have become a bit of a theme. Fitting, then, that at this event we see innovative light-up rugby posts that turn green when a conversion, penalty kick or even drop-goal is successful. The Hong Kong union want to go greener still, with revelers encouraged to purchase reusable pint mugs, rather than collecting and then chucking away plastic tumblers. They want to significantly reduce waste.And yet, some things here never change. Newbies and first-time fans may not know exactly how it will feel, but they know they are in for a good time. And everyone knows that Fiji come to play. In the final there are offloads over the head, yellow cards dished out and mighty runs from players like Aminiasi Tuimaba. After their 21-7 over France, Fiji coach Gareth Baber dedicates the victory to the victims of the atrocities in New Zealand in March, in which 50 people perished and 50 more were injured. During the game the Flying Fijians are just as classy. They are just seven points behind USA in the standings and with three legs left to play, the rest of the season should be just as energetic as a sing along to Queen.