‘No Sevens, no Serevi’ – How the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens changed my life, part two
Hong Kong residents and visitors tell us how the unique event has had an impact on their lives
Part two of the series features one of the legendary figures of the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, as well as a national treasure from New Zealand and a Hong Kong Rugby Union Hall of Famer.
You can read part one of the series here.
Former Fiji player inducted as one of the Hong Kong Sevens legends in 2015
I always say, “No Hong Kong Sevens, No Serevi”. It’s true the Hong Kong Sevens made me who I am today.
It doesn’t feel that long ago since it was 1989 and I first came to play here, nor does it feel like 10 years since I last played. I played in Hong Kong 16 times and it’s been amazing, especially in 1997 and 2005 for the Rugby World Cup Sevens, which we won. Whenever we won, a national holiday was declared back home.
Without it, I would not have been running my coaching company, Atavus Rugby, for the past seven years in Seattle. Rugby is the fastest growing sport in North America.
I want to continue coming to Hong Kong for the Sevens every year, as it’s a part of who I am and it’s always so exciting. I just like to make people happy, and the Hong Kong Sevens allows me to do this every year.
A “national treasure” with a museum of rugby artefacts named after him in Wellington
I’ve been to the Sevens over 31 years , but nailing the number down exactly is now beyond me. Every trip is forever mixed into a wondrous memory of Hong Kong fun, friends and footy, always of the highest kind.
I first took a call from Cathay Pacific Airlines in 1986 to fly in between the apartments of the old airport, to have the first-time thrill of working at the microphones with the legendary Scottish TV commentator Bill McLaren. This was life changing in every sense but mostly when Bill admitted quietly his early uncertainty and reluctance about how to pronounce at high speed in his commentary the names of Fijian or Pacific players.
This elevated my status from being a knockabout Kiwi to calling the finals at the world’s most famous sevens event while the great man stood by.
Newer commentators have come and gone over the years, and we have now fallen into a sequence of doing the same things every year. On the first night of arrival the world’s media all meet in the Temple Street night markets, to shop then eat great spicy hot food and drink the coldest beer you can imagine.
The next morning at breakfast we wander through the team tables at the Marco Polo hotel, jotting down notes on the new players. Then there’s a session of typing and research before stepping out into the sultry night air yet again.
The annual sense of total welcome from local rugby people overrides everything.
I can’t always remember what happened each year. I actually don’t mind that it’s a glorious haze as each trip has been such a joy, a massive part of my life – so much so they have all been life-changing.
Rugby commentator and MC
It’s been a life changer and a game changer. First, when playing and coaching for Kubota in Tokyo, I came to the Sevens with 20 of my Norths Rugby Club mates in 1994 from Sydney and uni mates. We were the “Funky Gibbons”, which included former Hong Kong player Chris Gordon.
Second, when I was coaching the Singapore sevens team from 1996-2000. To be down at pitch level is not only amazing, it’s addictive.
Third, it has given me the best seat in the house – on the halfway line commentating for RTHK. It’s been a great life experience, interviewing some of the world’s most interesting rugby names. I’ve commentated a few Rugby World Cups now for Star/Fox Sports, starting in 1999.
And fourth, hosting and commentating in the Sevens hospitality tents across the road. This is a civilised way for anyone to enjoy the Sevens, but then, there’s no bad way to experience it.
I flew into Hong Kong in March 1997, the year Hong Kong was handed back to China, and it was the first ever women’s international rugby sevens, held in conjunction with the Rugby World Cup Sevens that year.
I was representing the Arabian Gulf. Our training seemed to consist of a few training runs in the muggy humidity plus visits to “the Dentist’s Chair” in the China Jump, and Carnegie’s for some bar dancing.
For two days we played our hearts out. There was a great buzz. I bonded with several like-minded rugby “chicks” and thought “this is the place to be”.
I was leaving the Middle East that year when a contact I had made in Hong Kong offered me three months’ sports coaching work.
On the day Princess Diana died, I arrived in Hong Kong to live, like many others, with one bag, my rugby boots and mouth guard, expecting to stay three-to-four months.
I was a physical education teacher and played rugby, proud of representing Hong Kong for eight years as a sevens player. Even better was giving back and being part of girls rugby, via coaching at Stingrays, KGV and within the HKRU. I am so proud of some of my “proteges” who are now in the women’s squad.
This Brit also met her match in a science teacher, Aussie Matt (it’s debatable which one of us is the social climber). So I can attribute my career on and off the pitch to the Sevens, my marriage, and also, indirectly, the birth of our daughter, now eight.
Former tournament director
In 42 years of Sevens in Hong Kong, I’ve missed only one. The Sevens has not only changed my life, it’s become a way of life. Not just for me but for the family, too.
My wife requires to be seated in exactly the same seat every year and woe betide anyone who gets there before her. My son graduated from playing mini and youth rugby, watching from the front to the back of the South Stand, and is now out of it again as he’s over 40.
For me, firstly, as a cop being involved in the wonders and “delights” of policing such a tremendous event.
As the Hong Kong team manager, savouring the atmosphere when the team entered the field. Then as tournament director, getting the event up and running.
And now my wife and I have the luck to sit in a box as guests of the union. Finally, the privilege to have met so many wonderful people in and out of the Sevens who remain in our hearts forever.