The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU) celebrated the arrival of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens with a clash of cymbals and a performance of Yueju (Cantonese Opera), a local art form recognised by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Known for their portrayals of ancient Chinese generals leading their armies into battle, the cultural kick-off of this year's Hong Kong Sevens is apt, as the upcoming weekend will offer all of the furious action for which international sevens is rightly renowned.
For the second year running, Hong Kong will welcome a record 28 teams to the Sevens. This year's Sevens will play host to the HSBC Sevens World Series (HSBC SWS) competition amongst the 15 core teams on the Series and Asia's third-ranked side Sri Lanka, and a simultaneous 12-team international qualifier competition, the winner of which will be promoted to the HSBC SWS in 2014/2015.
Avan Lee, IRB General Manager Sevens, said: "The Hong Kong Sevens is not only an iconic event for Rugby, it is a truly iconic global sporting event and all the teams love coming here.
"Our thanks go to the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union also for hosting the World Series qualifier event, which we are hugely excited about. One of these 12 regional teams here will win promotion to core status on the 2014/2015 Series, and both Hong Kong and Japan have a real chance. The incentive has also never been greater with next year's Series also qualifying four teams directly into the 2016 Rio Olympics. It is a hugely exciting time for the global game of Rugby Sevens."
With two tournament wins apiece in the HSBC Sevens World Series each by South Africa, New Zealand and Fiji, it is hard to look beyond these three as the frontrunners for Cup honours this weekend.
Fiji will enter their favourite hunting ground where they have won 14 times, including two Rugby World Cup Sevens in 1997 and 2005, buoyed by their classic win over South Africa at the Tokyo Sevens last Sunday. This victory, following their triumph at the Dubai Sevens last November, will give the flying Fijians some momentum as they bid to win a hat-trick of Cup titles in Hong Kong and become the only side to do so on three different occasions in the history of the tournament.
Fiji was named top seeds and was drawn with Kenya, Wales and Sri Lanka in Pool A in the 16-team tournament.
South Africa's runner-up place in Tokyo saw them leapfrog New Zealand on the overall standings. South Africa enter the seventh leg with 116 points, two in front of New Zealand. Fiji is in third place on 95 with England fourth on 85.
The Blitzbokke, who were drawn with Australia, France and Spain in Pool B, are still seeking their maiden Cup championship in Hong Kong and with new coach Neil Powell, a former captain, spurring them on are strongly fancied to be in the running.
England with new coach Simon Amor running a tight ship will be seeking to win their first Cup title since 2006 - when Amor was playing - and will be well supported at Hong Kong Stadium. England are the top seeds in Pool C, which comprises Canada, Argentina and Portugal
New Zealand arrive in Hong Kong on the back of their worst finish on the World Series this season - beaten into fourth place by England in Tokyo. The prospect of a New Zealand team out to redress last weekend's performance will surely upset the other core teams as the Kiwis look for an 11th cup title in Hong Kong and their first since 2011. New Zealand top a challenging Pool D alongside United States, Scotland and Samoa.
While the battle at the top will be engrossing, Spain will be looking for a much-improved performance as they seek to move away from the relegation zone. Spain has nine points and occupies the last place in the standings, 13 points behind Portugal. The bottom-placed team at the end of this season will be relegated making way for the winner of the qualifiers this weekend to join the other core teams next season.
The continued parity on the series makes a win in Hong Kong even more important for the teams and a pivotal factor in deciding the overall HSBC SWS champions. The Cup winner in Hong Kong will receive 22 points towards their series standings while the runners-up will receive 19. Third and fourth place finishers receive 17 and 15 points respectively.
A separate 12-team HSBC Sevens World Series pre-qualification tournament will also be held this weekend. Four Qualifier teams are making their Hong Kong Sevens debut, American Samoa, Barbados, Chile, and Trinidad & Tobago, bringing the total number of teams to have participated in the tournament since 1976 to 57.
The 12 pre-qualifier teams (two from each of the six International Rugby Board regions) are American Samoa, Barbados, Chile, Cook Islands, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Russia, Trinidad & Tobago, Tunisia, Uruguay and Zimbabwe.
Pool E sees Russia, Zimbabwe, Chile and Barbados. Hosts Hong Kong top Pool F alongside Italy, Tunisia and American Samoa. Japan top Pool G with Cook Islands, Uruguay and Trinidad & Tobago.
Attending today's press conference and photo call were Simon Large, General Manager Marketing, Loyalty Programme, & CRM, Cathay Pacific Airways; Giles Morgan, Global Head of Sponsorship and Events, HSBC; Avan Lee, General Manager Sevens for the International Rugby Board; Trevor Gregory, Chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union and coaches of several of the leading teams. The coaches attending today's press conference were Neil Powell of South Africa, Sir Gordon Tietjens of New Zealand, Ben Ryan of Fiji, Simon Amor of England and ex-Wales Sevens star Gareth Baber, the new coach of the Hong Kong team.
Seventy men's matches will be played as part of this year's tournament. Matches start at 14.00 on Friday, 09.00 on Saturday and 10.00 on Sunday. The Cup final of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Women's Rugby Sevens will be played on Friday evening at 19.52.
The Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens has again drawn a sold out attendance of 40,000. Over 120,000 cumulative spectators are expected across the three-day tournament.