New Zealand’s greatest moments in Hong Kong Sevens history

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The inspiration behind the Hong Kong Sevens came from businessman Ian Gow and Chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union Tokkie Smith.  Gow had attended the International Tournament in 1973 to celebrate the centenary of the Scottish Rugby Union. Gow's idea was to bring in teams from around the world for a tournament in Hong Kong; Smith suggested sevens as logistically more convenient.

Ten counties and two invitation teams competed at the first event. The 10 countries who participated were: Fiji, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Tonga, and Malaysia.

Australia was represented by the "Wallaroos" and New Zealand by the "Cantabrians” who beat the Aussies 24-8 in the final.

Fast forward to 2024 and the All Blacks and Black Ferns Sevens are the reigning champions.

1986: First Official Win

Following the Cantabrians' win in 1976, New Zealand suffered a barren streak with the Wallabies and Fiji accumulating four titles each.

In 1986 New Zealand sent a stacked team to Hong Kong captained by Sir Wayne Smith and featuring fellow All Blacks, David Kirk, Frano Botica, Mark Brooke-Cowden, Sir Wayne Shelford, and Mike Clamp.

However, a little-known 19-year-old Zinzan Brooke would produce a star turn with a breakout display in what would become a storied career.

New Zealand beat Indonesia (36-0), Hong Kong (40-0), Tonga (28-0), Fiji (28-6), and French Barbarians (32-12) to capture their first official title. New Zealand would repeat successes in 1987 and 1989.

Jonah, Cully, Greatness

New Zealand won 16 consecutive matches and unearthed two genuine superstars between 1994 and 1996. In 1995, Jonah Lomu received the Leslie Williams Award for the Best and Fairest Player. In 1996 Christian Cullen won the accolade.

New Zealand had lost three consecutive finals before 1994 but broke their duck with a victory against Australia.

Adrian Cashmore was the top points scorer with 45. Captain Eric Rush scored five tries and Dallas Seymour, Jonah Lomu, and Joeli Vidiri combined for four tries each.

In 1995, Lomu was at his rampant best and would become the biggest Superstar in the game at the Rugby World Cup. Lomu scored five tries and an American football pass he did from one side of the field to the other was the stuff of legend. Eric Rush again contributed five tries and Glen Osborne scored 59 points.

The 1996 Hong Kong victory with Lomu and Cullen together was the most dramatic. New Zealand scored a record number of points in the tournament with Cullen scoring an incredible 136 points (18 tries, 23 conversions). That tally includes a record seven tries in a single match against Sri Lanka. In the narrow victory over Fiji in the final, Cullen didn't score a try but set up one of two tries for Waisake Masirewa (10 tournaments) with a famous break. The New York Times reported:

“At one point, with the score tied 7-7, and 40,000 fans roaring, the acrobatic Fijians had New Zealand pushed back to the end line. But then 20-year-old Christian Cullen sidestepped three or four Fijians and broke loose in a slashing run typical of his electric play throughout the weekend before flicking the ball at the halfway line to his speeding teammate Waisake Masirewa, who put New Zealand in front.”

1994: Malaysia (64-0), Tonga (38-5), France (21-12), Fiji (28-14), Australia (32-20)

1995: Kwang-Hua Taipei (42-5), USA (40-7), South Africa (26-0), Western Samoa (26-0) and Fiji (35-17)

1996: Sri Lanka (75-0), Japan (77-0), France (28-14), Ireland (49-0), England (2-19), Fiji (19-17)

Leslie Williams Award

A popular figure in Hong Kong rugby, Englishman Leslie Williams was a rugby stalwart for the Hong Kong Football Club, as well as a member of the Hong Kong representative XV in the 1960s. After leaving Hong Kong with his family for New Zealand in 1971, Leslie passed away of a heart attack eight years later at the age of 45. A year later, Leslie's many friends in the territory decided that it would be a fitting tribute to his outstanding service and contribution to local rugby, and his commitment to fair play, by creating an eponymous award for the outstanding player of the Hong Kong Sevens. Since 1980, the coveted Leslie Williams Trophy has been awarded annually to the player, who in the opinion of the judge's panel best exemplifies the skill and spirit of seven-a-side rugby.

Aotearoa Māori Sevens Untouchable

New Zealand sent an official women’s team to Hong Kong in 2000 and 2001 and both won the tournament. An unofficial New Zealand Wild Ducks outfit had won tournaments in 1997 and 1999. When funding was cut in 2002 Aotearoa Māori pioneered by Rotorua coach Peter Joseph, filled the void. Joseph sold his house to raise $64,000 to get the team to Hong Kong.

Aotearoa Māori won 14 of the 18 tournaments they played between 2000 and 2012, beating 23 different countries with 34 of the 81 women to represent the side either Black Ferns or Black Ferns Sevens representatives. That includes legends Selica Winiata and Honey Hireme-Smiler and Aussie Olympic gold medalist Amy Turner.

Between 2002 and 2007 Aotearoa Māori won the Hong Kong Sevens six years in a row (33 matches). In 2003 they were accused of being a team built on race. Stephanie Mortimer, a blonde from Canterbury, joined the squad in 2004. Aotearoa won the tournament and Mortimer became New Zealand Women’s Player of the Year.

“It was a battle for us every year, especially as it got to year three and four. I think it became a bit of an embarrassment for them. We weren’t considered a national team but we were cleaning up the tournament. In 2007, the last year, we went unbeaten 195-0,” Joseph recalled in 2021.

2023: Black Ferns & All Blacks Sevens Top of the Pile

Hong Kong wasn’t included in the women's World Series circuit until 2023. The Black Ferns Sevens beat Hong Kong (50-0), Great Britain (43-0), Canada (46-0), Canada (45-14), Fiji (31-5) and Australia (26-17) en route to the title.

Stacey Waaka was named player of the final against Australia scoring two of her tournament-leading eight tries. The Black Ferns scored 39 tries and only conceded five in extending their 2022-23 World Series winning streak to 30 consecutive matches.

The All Blacks Sevens claimed their first Hong Kong title since 2014 defeating Fiji 24-17 in the final. Cody Vai opened the scoring after just 30 seconds as the All Blacks Sevens made a dream start which got better with tries to co-captain Sione Molia and Leroy Carter who beat the dead-ball line and two defenders in a high-speed chase.

Down 19-0, Vuiviwa Naduvalu finished off a length-of-the-pitch riposte 60 seconds later to get Fiji on the board, but Ngarohi McGarvey-Black extended the All Blacks Sevens’ lead again to 24-7 before a breathless opening period ended. Joseva Talacolo got Fiji’s second early in the second half – and a consolation third on the final whistle as New Zealand.

The All Blacks Sevens also beat Kenya (29-5), South Africa (12-7), Ireland (26-7), Argentina (24-10) and France (12-7).


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