‘46 of my players became All Blacks’ – How the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens changed my life, part 3
Hong Kong residents and visitors tell us how the unique event has had an impact on their lives
Part three of the series features one of the most successful coaches in the history of the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, as well as an All Black who used the Sevens as a platform launching his stellar career and has become a regular attendee since.
Former New Zealand sevens coach and new Samoa coach
I played here in 1983 in the first national sevens team and first coached here in 1994. When I look back and reflect, I’m proud I won eight times, including the first three years in a row.
The Hong Kong Sevens is still the number one tournament and the eternal benchmark. Everyone wants to win.
As the game of sevens has evolved, so have I. The athletes have to be stronger, faster and fitter. Still some nations use it as a development tool, but you can’t hide on a sevens field, and you can’t hide in a stadium of 40,000 people.
The Hong Kong Sevens has changed my life in so many ways. I never thought I’d travel the world to such an extent. Anyone who has coached a sevens team or a 15-a-side team in New Zealand knows the enormous pressure and expectation to perform and win. I had a lot of success with it, and a lot because of Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Sevens is like a family to me. I was still asked to attend even if I wasn’t coaching. That meant a lot. As it turns out, I will be back coaching Samoa and the journey continues.
The Hong Kong Sevens gave me a stage to bring new players such as Jonah Lomu, Eric Rush, Christian Cullen, Karl Te Nana, DJ Forbes, Rieko Ioane, and Ardie and Julian Savea. In total, 46 of my players have become All Blacks. With the help of the Hong Kong Sevens, I’ve changed a lot of lives, as well as my own.
Former player and sevens speaking-circuit doyen
I had never been to Asia and the Hong Kong Sevens in 1988 was my first tour in a black jersey, so that made it special from the very start. Then the landing at Kai Tak and the sliding doors opened to the smell of the Kai Tak Nullah and about 20 reporters, flashing cameras.
I’d never seen anything like it. We glided into the Hong Kong Hilton – it was the flashest place I’d ever been in. This was followed by the customary night cap at the Bull and Bear.
All of the senses were assaulted by the sights, sounds and smells of Hong Kong – riding the Star Ferry, measuring up for tailor-made suits at Harry Lee Tailors (who I went to visit last year in the same place), watching Zinzan Brooke trying to barter with the store owners in Kowloon and Stanley ... and all the while trying to prepare to play rugby on the weekend.
I loved that first year so much I vowed I would come back as many times as possible. So for 17 years in succession (although one year my leg was in plaster and I couldn’t run very well), I was in Hong Kong instead of playing club rugby in south Auckland.
I last played in Hong Kong during the 2005 Rugby World Cup Sevens. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve come back to appear on the speaking circuit.
As it did for many young Kiwi players , the Hong Kong Sevens launched me on to the big stage and eventually to the All Black team. Now that really changed my life.
Head of mini rugby and parent of two former Hong Kong players
The day we enrolled our two sons into the mini-rugby programme in 1994 changed our lives. Mini rugby morphed into youth and school rugby and age-grade teams and tours became part of life – and all in pursuit of the dream of being involved in the famous Hong Kong Sevens. It was the tournament where everyone wanted to appear, whether in a youth team or as part of the revered Hong Kong team.
As our sons perfected their skills they were selected to represent Hong Kong, and to have both boys playing in the team in such an environment was a source of immense pride.
Having learned the value of fitness and nutrition, Ed and Ant have become cross-training athletes and they, in turn, coach life fitness.
Business connections and friendships blossomed – rarely is an invitation turned down, it’s the place to be.
And the stash. We’ve got more rugby kit and paraphernalia in our home than most retail shops. None can be thrown away as each has its memories.
Whether player or punter, there is nothing quite like the Hong Kong Sevens – it quite literally changed our lives.
Former Sevens physiotherapist
Twenty years ago at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in 1997, my boyfriend, Bob, put a message up on the big screen: “Happy birthday Lesley (physio). Will you marry me?”
I replied: “Yes, if you come to the physio room with a 10-carat diamond ring.”
We have now been happily engaged for 20 years with four children and six grandchildren. I never got the whole 10 carats but I do have three rings to make up for it.
Executive film producer and director
The first time I ever saw a rugby match was when I was asked to shoot video for TV3 NZ in the late 1980s. The assignment was to cover the New Zealand team around the Sevens
matches, and behind the scenes around Hong Kong, including tailors in Nathan Road and Club 97.
This was the era when Zinzan Brooke and Eric Rush were in their heyday. As an American, I knew nothing about them or the game. Being a Sevens virgin paid off – they were totally relaxed with me having the camera in their faces day in and day out.
The team and TV3 liked the results so much that I was asked to go on a world tour with them. As
tempting as it was, I opted to take a contract with British TV, which led to the start-up of my film company, APV, now celebrating its 25th anniversary.
I shot many Sevens after that, and in 2011 we were commissioned by National Geographic to do a behind-the-scenes documentary, Inside: The Hong Kong Sevens, which was nominated for regional awards.
Today, my youngest son, Jake, is the captain of his rugby team at his university in the US. It all started with the Hong Kong Sevens.