Waisale Serevi, Ben Gollings set up sevens academy
Once rivals on the pitch, former Fiji and England stars set up academy to help smaller nations - and give something back to the game
Once they went head-to-head on the rugby pitch, but now Waisale Serevi and Ben Gollings are teaming up to promote the game they love - sevens - to the world.
Fijian legend Serevi and England's most-accomplished player of the abbreviated code Gollings, who were guests of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union at Friday's Long Lunch to herald the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens next March, have forged a relationship which they hope will help the smaller rugby-playing countries develop.
"Now that rugby sevens is in the Olympics, a lot of nations who would have struggled in 15s now have the chance to compete. Our aim is to help these nations by developing programmes," said Gollings.
Serevi added: "We have formed an academy, which is at the moment based in the United States. But we will be moving out, helping countries. We even have Gordon Tietjens [New Zealand sevens mastermind] involved."
Serevi won the Best and Fairest Player of the tournament at the Hong Kong Sevens on three occasions and led Fiji to a clutch of Cup titles plus World Cup victories in 1997 and 2005. Gollings is the all-time top points-scorer in the HSBC Sevens World Series, scoring 2,652 in 70 appearances for England. He also led his team to four Cup titles in Hong Kong.
They have won everything on offer, but one prize which will elude their grasp is the Olympics.
"I wish the Olympics came about five years ago. But I cannot have any regrets for this game has given so much to me, especially the Hong Kong Sevens. For without the Hong Kong sevens there would be no Serevi," said the Fiji magician.
Gollings said: "It was so close yet so far. I set my sights on the Olympics and wanted to achieve that goal, unfortunately that is out of my power in terms of playing days. But we both got a lot out of sevens and we had a pretty good run. The Olympic medal is massive, it will grow the game, and sevens is becoming bigger and bigger."
Serevi added: "This will spread the game faster especially in Asia. This region has helped raise the profile of sevens internationally, especially the Hong Kong Sevens, and I think it is also important for Asia to have a core team playing in every leg of the World Series."
At present, none of the 15 core teams are from Asia. "I have spent the last two months on the HSBC Asian Sevens Series and you will soon see an Asian team in the series very soon," said Gollings, who coached Sri Lanka.
"The pathway has opened up, and you could see two or three teams from Asia becoming core teams in the next three years … But it is going to be cut-throat competition. Hong Kong and Japan can push teams in the core circuit and push for spots."
Both picked the 2005 World Cup as one of their most memorable moments in Hong Kong. Fiji met England in the Cup semi-final. It was a high-octane affair with England levelling the score at the death. Gollings missed the conversion and the match went into sudden death. Serevi clinched the result with a try by the corner flag, despite a desperate tackle from Gollings. Fiji then beat New Zealand in the Cup final. "I always say I didn't score the winning try, but rather Ben didn't kick the conversion," joked Serevi. Gollings added: "I try not to remember that. But it was the game of the tournament."
The next year the tables were turned. Fiji led in the Cup final against England before Gollings scored a try and then knocked over the conversion to snatch victory for his team. "It shows how unpredictable sevens can be. But this game gave us so much, and now we want to give something back," Serevi added.