Jonah Lomu named final member of HKRFU’s ‘Hong Kong Magnificent Seven’

Rowan Varty and Keith Robertson voted co-winners in Hong Kong’s Hometown Legends campaign

26 March, 2015

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The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU) has named Jonah Lomu as the seventh and final member of 'The Hong Kong Magnificent Seven', the HKRFU's assembly of the top seven players to have played at the Hong Kong Sevens over the past 40 years.

Lomu was inducted into 'The Magnificent Seven' last night at the 40 Years of Sevens Gala dinner in Hong Kong along with the announced co-winners of the HKRFU's Hong Kong Hometown Legend campaign, Rowan Varty and Keith Robertson.

Quite possibly the most famous rugby player in history, Jonah Lomu made his debut appearance in Hong Kong in 1994, giving Hong Kong Sevens fans a privileged opportunity to witness a superstar in the making.

Lomu came to Hong Kong as an unheralded youngster but exited the Sevens on the cusp of stardom. Months later he would be selected as the then youngest-ever All Black at just 19 years and 45 days old, making his debut appearance against France. The following year he cemented his reputation as rugby's most unstoppable force by scoring seven tries at the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa.

Lomu would return to the Hong Kong Sevens in 1995 and 1996 to anchor New Zealand to three successive tournament victories and secure himself an abiding place in Hong Kong's sporting lore.

He also helped New Zealand win the gold medal at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and led his country to its first Rugby World Cup Sevens victory at the 2001 world championships in Argentina. He is the third Kiwi named in 'The Hong Kong Magnificent Seven'.

The expert panel of sevens specialists convened by the HKRFU to adjudicate 'The Hong Kong Magnificent Seven' obviously did their homework. At yesterday's pre-event press conference ahead of the 2015 Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens (27-29 March), Sir Gordon Tietjens, in charge of the New Zealand Sevens team since 1994, was queried about the three best players he has ever coached.

After little deliberation, Tietjens named Eric Rush, Christian Cullen and Lomu. All three have been named into the Magnificent Seven – making New Zealand the only nation with multiple recipients of this unique honour.

The complete Hong Kong Magnificent Seven are:

Zhang Zhiqiang

China

Ben Gollings

England

Christian Cullen

New Zealand

Eric Rush

New Zealand

David Campese

Australia

Waisale Serevi

Fiji

Jonah Lomu

New Zealand

The HKRFU established 'The Hong Kong Magnificent Seven' as part of its celebrations of 40 Years of Sevens in Hong Kong in 2015. Video highlights of the seven players can be viewed here. The Hong Kong Sevens was first played in March 1976 in front of 3,000 fans at the Hong Kong Football Club. The legendary team will be leading the world famous March Past in Saturday (28 March, 14:04pm). This year's three-day tournament, which kicks off on Friday, will draw a capacity cumulative audience of 120,000 spectators.

HKRFU recognises local legends

The HKRFU also yesterday announced the winner of its 'Hong Kong's Hometown Legend' award, created to honour the best Hong Kong player to take the field at the Hong Kong Sevens since 1976.

After a fan ballot on social media, two players were running neck and neck ahead of a field of worthy contenders.The final decision rested with the HKRFU panel of test veterans, which elected to confer a joint award of this unique honour. The winners, who both hail from Hong Kong's latest generation of sevens stars, are Rowan Varty and Keith Robertson.

Varty is Hong Kong's most capped Sevens player and will mark his tenth appearance at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens in 2015. Robertson, who has been hampered by injury over the past few seasons, has been unable to fully recover in time for selection for Hong Kong in 2015, but has played in the Hong Kong Sevens on seven occasions.

Both have been standout performers for the SAR in both sevens and fifteen-a-side and have risen to the challenge of playing in the cauldron that is the Hong Kong Stadium on Sevens weekend.Robertson is the 13th highest points scorer at the Hong Kong Sevens since the inception of the HSBC Sevens World Series in 2000 with 128 points, trailing Simon Amor on 140 points and with a chance to make up the gap at future tournaments.

Varty, meanwhile, is one of Hong Kong's most accomplished all-round players and is tied-13th in the all-time top try scorers in Hong Kong since 2000 with 18. Varty's skills have been recognised in the fifteen-a-side game as well. He played professionally in Japan's Top League and was the first Hong Kong player selected for the Barbarians ahead of their match versus the British & Irish Lions in 2013, donning the famed black and white hoops of the Baa Baas in Twickenham in a warm-up match against England prior to the Tour.

HKRFU Head of Performance Dai Rees commented on the award, saying "The two were well clear of the field in the public vote and have had a huge contribution to Hong Kong Rugby in the modern era. I think the panel's decision for a joint award was fitting. They are both different style of players but they complement each other on the pitch and are best friends off it, having grown up and played together in Hong Kong since they were young."

Both capped at 18 years old, the two players have been part of a side that has had success at the Hong Kong Sevens, winning the Shield on its debut in 2010 and reaching the Bowl final against England in 2013.

"I first came across the both of them in 2007 coaching Wales at the Adelaide Sevens," said Rees. "Little did I know that two years later I would be coaching Hong Kong and that these two guys would become a huge part of my life."

"Personally, I'll never forget 2010 when we beat Wales, who were at the time world champions, with two future Lions in the side. Then we went on to beat Russia in the final and win the Shield on the year it was introduced in Hong Kong. It was a special run."

Rees also noted their contrasting styles but praised the way they complimented each other on the pitch saying, "Keith was excellent in terms of his ability to create things and his unpredictability, but you could count on him to be superb inside the Stadium with 40,000 people cheering for Hong Kong. He is a real entertainer with the way he plays.

"Rowan is primarily a centre/wing and has been our top finisher for some time. You can go through some of the World Rugby videos where they identify the top tries from each year's Hong Kong Sevens and several of them are his. It demonstrates his class."

"Neither of them could have given anything more in a Hong Kong shirt and I think that is set to continue for a while yet under Gareth Baber," concluded Rees.

Both Hong Kong's Hometown Legends and the Magnificent Seven were recognised at last night's 40 Years of the Sevens Gala Dinner in Hong Kong.