How Fiji Sevens’ Waisale Serevi and his band of ‘schoolchildren’ took the Hong Kong 1997 World Cup home
The ‘King of Sevens’ reflects on his two wins in the territory ahead of this weekend’s showpiece in San Francisco
He’s the ‘King of Sevens’ and Hong Kong was his playground, so it comes as no surprise that of the two Rugby World Cup Sevens held in the territory, Waisale Serevi captained Fiji to victory in both.
The love affair between Fiji and Hong Kong runs deep, with each as reliant on the other across decades of brilliance, mayhem and frivolity.
As Fiji prepare for their tilt at a third World Cup this weekend in San Francisco, Serevi reflected on two of the greatest moments in his career – World Cup victories in 1997 and 2005.
“In 1997 we went to the World Cup in Hong Kong and getting into the airport with our little bags and [seeing] all the teams with a lot of big bags and all their equipment, we were like schoolchildren,” Serevi told World Rugby.
“But we went in and won the World Cup and it was great. I can remember we were warming up and I saw in the crowd one of the Fiji supporters with a sign saying ‘Take it home Fiji’.
“I told the boys, ‘Just look on the sideline’ and the boys saw and I said ‘this is a great motivation for us, play like this is the last game of your life. This is your opportunity for you to do something for our little country’.”
Fiji saw off South Africa 24-21 in the 1997 final at Hong Kong Stadium, with Serevi scoring nine tries and 117 points in the tournament.
“My greatest memory was that we played the final against South Africa, they won the World Cup 15s in 1995,” Serevi said.
“They were coming back to Hong Kong with all their top players, Joost van der Westhuizen, Andre Venter, Pieter Rossouw, Bobby Skinstad. They were coming in and we watched them play and I know they really wanted to win the World Cup in 15s and sevens.
“After the final I told Van Der Westhuizen, you guys won the 15s World Cup and I know you wanted the sevens but we have to take it home to Fiji.”
After being in and out of the side in the years prior, Serevi rose again to add to his legend in 2005, leading Fiji to a 29-19 win over New Zealand in the final.
Many wonder if there are higher powers at work when Fiji grace the turf at Hong Kong Stadium and it certainly seemed that way for Serevi in 2005.
“I was on the plane going to Hong Kong and I landed and I saw a vision: my little boy holding the World Cup,” he said.
“I told [my family] to stay home and I would bring the World Cup home but then I went and rang them, ‘hey you have to come. I saw something on the plane, Junior holding the World Cup. It won’t happen if Junior doesn’t come’.”
Serevi’s vision came true and, while the World Cup may not return to Hong Kong for some time as World Rugby target emerging markets, the little master will long remember the days when Fiji reigned supreme at the spiritual home of sevens.
“Hong Kong is my home away from home. Sevens if part of every Fijian rugby player’s life. The World Cup Sevens means a lot to me and the people of Fiji,” he said.