Fiji legend Seru Rabeni enjoys life on the other side of the fence in Hong Kong
Former sevens star is studying in Hong Kong and continues to play rugby – but at a more leisurely pace
Former Fiji star Seru Rabeni is seeing the Hong Kong Sevens from a different perspective this weekend - as a spectator for the first time.
Now living in Hong Kong, Rabeni was part of the Cup-winning team in 1999 and remembers it fondly. "I still cherish that win. It was one of the most memorable moments of my career," Rabeni said during a busy week in which he played for Taikoo Place Scottish Exiles in the GFI HKFC Tens and for Zenda Power in the Prudential Beach 5s at Repulse Bay.
"It was my first trip here and I remember being awestruck by the buildings.
"For any Fijian player, winning Hong Kong is the icing on your career as a sevens player. You want to get here and you want to win and it stays with you for the rest of your career."
Rabeni played two sevens tournaments in Hong Kong, 1999 and then 2000, and is itching for his first experience on the other side of the fence.
"I have heard about it a lot," Rabeni said. "It is one of the best places to play rugby sevens and it is still the mecca of sevens."
The 36-year-old played the majority of his career as a centre or on the wing and made a name for himself with his strength and brutal tackling.
Like many young Fijians, Rabeni's entry into rugby was simple. "You didn't need many facilities, just a ball and an empty space," he said.
"In Fiji, rugby is the only sport known internationally and it is what every young person wants to play. It's the only sport where we can compete with other nations."
From those humble beginnings, Rabeni went on to feature in two 15s World Cups for Fiji, 2003 and 2007, and regards beating Wales to progress to the quarter-finals in 2007 as one of the highlights of his career.
Rabeni moved to Hong Kong last year to pursue his study - a sports marketing and business management course - and to continue his rugby career at a more casual pace.
"There are a lot of opportunities in Hong Kong to study and to play a bit of rugby with no pressure," he said.
"There is the opportunity here to study and get into the business network that you don't find in many countries. When I decided to finish my [professional] rugby, what better place to come than Hong Kong."
After moving to Hong Kong with his partner Susan, Rabeni was in September named playing coach of the Discovery Bay Pirates.
He has had an immediate impact, with the side winning promotion to HKRFU Premiership A ahead of next season.
Rabeni, who played top-flight rugby in New Zealand, France and England, is hopeful of continued development at the Pirates, with the ultimate aim to earn a place in the Premiership in the coming years.
"There are a lot of hurdles to climb in terms of player availability and numbers," Rabeni said. "Next season is going to be a challenge. I'm looking forward to that."
A season into his career in Hong Kong, Rabeni has enjoyed taking a step back in standard, although he is confident that Hong Kong rugby on the whole is on the improve.
"They are on the right track," Rabeni said. "There is still a lot to be done to get up to the required standard to be a competitive tier one or tier two national team.
"It's going to take time, but they have put the structures in place, getting qualified coaches and experienced players to help out with the system.
"I think it will work out in the end. They have done well so far."