The Magnificent Seven
To celebrate its 40th birthday in 2015, The Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong 7s named the “Magnificent 7’. Chosen by a select committee of people closest to the Sevens over the years, these players were considered to have made the biggest splash at the Greatest Show on Earth…
When an 18 year old Jonah Lomu walked onto the pitch in Hong Kong for the first time in 1994, unsuspecting fans would witness the birth of rugby’s first true superstar. The colossus from New Zealand, who went on to become the youngest ever All Black, was an immense physical specimen who possessed the athleticism of a running back. The effects were devastating.In both 15 aside and his beloved 7s format, Jonah wreaked havoc on defences and had teams creating game plans just for him. After his mind-blowing debut tournament he would go on to help New Zealand win the Sevens gold medal at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, and he led his country to its first Rugby World Cup Sevens victory at the 2001. In 1996 Jonah told the SCMP “It all started here. My rugby career really took off in Hong Kong and I will always be grateful for that.”
One of sports easier ‘greatest of all time’ arguments is that of Rugby 7s player Serevi. Nicknamed ‘The Little Wizard’ by adoring fans, Waisale Serevi made his Hong Kong debut in 1989. Winning player of the tournament honours on debut, he embarked on what would become
one of the greatest dominations on team sport by an individual. He returned to the Mecca of 7s on 15 further occasions, as both a player and a coach. Serevi was part of 5 cup-winning teams and reached the final on a further 7 occasions, orchestrating Fijis dominance over the history of the event.
Before the juggernaut Jonah Lomu reigned supreme on the International scene, there was another king on the wing by the name of David Campese. Campo is probably best known for his exploits in the 15 aside form of the game, running up a then record 101 appearances and 64 tries in the green and gold. But purists of the game will remember well the legacy that Campo left in Hong Kong. Throughout the 80s and 90s he played in 12 tournaments and with a potent mix of pace and flair he goose stepped his way to three Cup titles.
When the International Rugby Board declared the game ‘open’ in 1995 it ushered in the professional era and took rugby from being a game to being a spectacle. A poster boy for this high-octane rugby was New Zealand’s Christian Cullen. Debuting at the 1996 tournament, the The Paekakariki Express scorched his way into the record books, scoring 7 tries in his opening games, and ended with 18 tries, a cup-winner's medal and the Leslie Williams Award for the Best and Fairest player at weekends end. Cullen was the spearhead of a potent All Blacks back three with Jonah Lomu and Jeff Wilson and became the most capped full back and record try scorer for New Zealand.
Whilst other players may have played more games and lifted more trophies, there has never been a point-scoring machine like England’s Ben Gollings. In just 8 appearances at the HK7s he amassed 276 points, nailing conversions from everywhere to add the extras in three out of four of England’s Cup Victories at the Stadium. Since the inception of the World Series Circuit he is the overall leading point scorer, and is a staggering 1300 points clear (over double) of his nearest active rival. As well as having a radar off the tee, Gollings had an appetite for the try line and sits 4th on the all time list of try scorers.
Zhang Zhiqiang is hailed as China’s ‘Mr Rugby’ - a worthy title as he can be credited as a major influencer in helping to grow the game in China.Mr Rugby would shine a spotlight onto the beautiful game, which bought new fans across the border to watch their countryman play, and in return they took the passion of rugby home with them. Also with considerable skills in the 15 aside game, Zhang had stints at Sunnybank as well as the Leicester Tigers in the UK. The call of Hong Kong would call though and he would always return to light up Hong Kong Stadium throughout his glittering career. With 25 tries, Zhang holds the record for most tries scored at the tournament and once was the leading point scorer.
It must be agreed that the name Eric Rush is synonymous with Sevens Rugby. With a career of 17 years that bridged the amateur and professional eras, Rush made a habit of collecting silverware. As well as 5 tournament wins at the HK7s, he won 2 gold Commonwealth Games medals, the World Sevens Series Title for six consecutive years and the Sevens World Cup championship in 2001. A huge factor in Rush’s longevity was his ability to get the best out of every member of his squad. The great Jonah Lomu even credited Rush as being the sole motivator for his blistering form in a crushing win against Fiji - ‘Before the final, Rushie got me so wound up I reckon I'd have run through a brick wall - he always knew which buttons to press. He told me just before the game that the Fijians had said I was only good for one run and that I was hopeless on defence. Rushie lit my fuse with those comments.’ Jonah Lomu.