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40 Years of the Hong Kong Sevens

A growing phenomenon: The Hong Kong Sevens' second decade in pictures

IN PICTURES: 40 years of the Hong Kong Sevens - part 3 (1986-1990). Join us for an eight-part romp through the SCMP archives looking at how the world-famous event grew from humble beginnings to become a phenomenon

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 March, 2015, 8:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 March, 2015, 12:47pm

From humble beginnings in 1976, the Hong Kong Sevens has grown into the city's leading sports event, famed throughout the world. This year, as the tournament celebrates 40 years, we're taking a ride through the SCMP archives to see how the event became the jewel in the sevens crown. 

And if you see yourself or a friend in any of the pictures in our eight-part series, click here to enter your best memories of the Sevens and the most original/entertaining answers will win a pair of three-day tickets to this year’s Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens from March 27-29.  

We start part 3 in 1986, the 11th tournament, which saw the debut of a little Welsh wizard called Jonathan Davies - though his team went out in the quarter-finals - while off the pitch there was rancour over Australia's attempt to set up a rival world series sevens tournament in Sydney.

In front of a 25,000-strong crowd, a Zinzan Brooke-inspired New Zealand beat the French Barbarians 32-12 in the final - cue that "Sevens heaven" headline yet again - and by the end of the tournament the row with Australia had been resolved. 

DON'T MISS: Part 1 of our look through the archives

1987 saw the arrival of a Sevens tradition that caught organisers by surprise, with a rash of streakers becoming part of the action. Was there something in the beer that year? A more liberal environment? Or just a case of monkey-see, monkey-do? Whatever the case, most years since have seen a pitch invader or two.

Such was the novelty, the streakers were the front-page splash in the South China Morning Post on the Monday morning, taking up half the page. Slow news day?

"Two men streaked naked across the field at separate intervals, another three dropped their trousers just before the final of the Plate and a woman waving the Welsh flag took off her top and stood for five minutes singing and cheering for her team," wrote the SCMP's woman on the scene.  

(The report mentions in passing, "the event was marred only late yesterday by the death from a heart attack of a male expatriate, aged 40".)

Meanwhile, on the pitch, a sensational New Zealand side retained their title, beating Fiji 12-6 in the final. Hong Kong won the Bowl, with Dan Daly named "best and fairest player" of the tournament.

This was also the year that the book of Guinness World Records certified the Hong Kong Sevens as the world's largest rugby tournament.

DON'T MISS: Part 2 of our look through the archives

1988 was the year another of the greats of the tournament emerged, with 23-year-old Eric Rush making the first of 10 appearances for New Zealand. 

Another tradition was born - that of proposing to your loved one. Frenchman Eric Blondeau got members of the crowd to spell out "Nathalie will you marry me" to his girlfriend Nathalie Dubois, and about 20 minutes later her friends spelled "Oui" at the top of the stands. Never mind that Nathalie had already popped the question on February 29.

"I had been organising the proposal for a long time when she proposed to me. It was very annoying," great romantic Eric told the SCMP

On a less happy note, there was perhaps the most serious injury ever seen at the tournament, with Dutch player Marcel Bierman breaking his neck. Though the tournament doctor told the SCMP, "We are optimistic he will make a full recovery," Bierman was paralysed.  

Australia won the tournament, spoiling New Zealand's bid to become the first team to win three in a row with David Campese and Fijian Acuru Niuqila electric for them. They made a little history of their own by becoming the first team to win five titles.

1989 saw the debut of one of the Hong Kong Sevens' all-time legends, Fijian great Waisale Serevi. He and Rush would become the faces of the tournament for the next decade and more.

Another well-known face was Western Samoa's female coach Marina Schaafhausen, who drew plenty of column inches in the SCMP because of the novelty of the "Iron Lady" keeping these behemoths under her thumb. 

The SCMP published a special Sevens supplement for the first time, reflecting the ever-expanding interest in the event. 

The Netherlands won the Bowl in front of former teammate Bierman, now confined to a wheelchair, in one of the tournament's most emotional moments. Hong Kong qualified for the Cup for the first time ever. 

In the main event, Zinzan Brooke's All Blacks made it three wins from four tournaments with a 22-10 victory over the Aussies after fighting back from 10-0 down against Fiji in the semis to win 12-10. Serevi, then 19, was named player of the tournament, the first of many awards.

Off the pitch, the SCMP noted the "eccentric attire" of many fans, with more and more opting to dress up - while the event was sold out for the first time.

In 1990 Wales became the first Home Nation to send a representative side, with organisers "hopeful" England, Ireland and Scotland would soon follow suit.

The SCMP published not one, but two special colour supplements, reflecting demand from readers - and advertisers. 

The first day's action saw a pitch invasion from a West German sporting a Nazi flag make the SCMP front page, but his team were thrashed by Canada, "with not a Spitfire in sight", our reporter wrote approvingly. Ah, the days before political correctness.

This was also the first year of the popular mini rugby tournament for kids, and increased efforts by the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union to engage the local community and spread the game among local Chinese children. Many of Hong Kong's current players had their first taste of the event as kids in the mini showcase. 

Fiji gained revenge (22-10) over New Zealand for their defeat in the 1989 semis, Serevi starring and helping set up one of the tournament's greatest tries for Tomasi Cama, "the like of which has never been seen before in the 15-year history of the tournament - and probably never will be again," wrote the SCMP.

Serevi was named player of the tournament for an unprecedented second successive year, while Hong Kong grabbed some more silverware with victory in the Plate.

And more records were set off the pitch, with Carlsberg hailing an all-time best of 1,600 kegs of beer sold. Strangely, this claim from the beer company's PR man seemed to appear in the SCMP every year during this era ...  

Roll of Honour:

1976 Cantabrians (New Zealand) 24 - Wallaroos (Australia) 8 

1977 Fiji 28 - Marlborough (New Zealand) 18

1978 Fiji 14 - Manawatu (New Zealand) 10

1979 Australia 39 - Western Samoa 3 

1980 Fiji 12 - Scottish Co-optimists 8

1981 Barbarians 12 - Australia 10

1982 Australia 18 - Scottish Border 14 

1983 Australia 14 - Fiji 4

1984 Fiji 26 - New Zealand 0

1985 Australia 24 - Public School Wanderers 10

1986 New Zealand 32 French Barbarians 12

1987 New Zealand 12 Fiji 6

1988 Australia 13 New Zealand 12

1989 New Zealand 22 Australia 10

1990 Fiji 22 New Zealand 10

Don't forget to enter here if you see yourself or a friend in the first three of our eight-part photo series. 

Part 4 is on Monday.