Waisale Serevi, ‘The King of Sevens’, is the latest individual to be inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame.
Fittingly, Fiji’s most famous player was bestowed with the honour at the sixth round of the HSBC Sevens World Series, the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, a tournament he has graced many times and with unrivalled success throughout his illustrious career.
IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset made the presentation to Serevi ahead of his country’s match against Canada on Saturday.
“Serevi is one of Rugby’s true greats,” said Lapasset. “He was an exceptional player who has excelled in both Sevens and Fifteens and achieved all that there is to achieve in Rugby Sevens with his beloved Fiji, winning Rugby World Cup Seven and Sevens World Series titles, while also winning the hearts of fans around the world with his exciting and entertaining style of play.”
“He was a gentleman in victory and defeat and played his Rugby with a smile, promoting Rugby’s character-building values of passion, respect, discipline, solidarity and integrity.”
“There is no doubt that his exploits on and off the field firmly established Pacific Island Rugby on the global Rugby map, while also playing a significant part in the phenomenal rise in popularity of Rugby Sevens, which ultimately played a significant role in Rugby Sevens becoming an Olympic Sport.”
“I am delighted to be inducting Serevi into the IRB Hall of Fame in the Fjji Rugby Union’s centenary year.”
Serevi-led teams captured three straight Cup titles at the Hong Kong Sevens from 1990-1992, and it was there that Fiji won two Rugby World Cup Sevens (1997 and 2005) with their talisman at the helm.
The diminutive playmaker enjoyed an unbroken run of appearances at the Hong Kong event from 1989 to 2000, and went on to claim a total of seven tournament wins – and four Player of the Tournament awards – before bidding a fond farewell to the venue in 2007.
Commenting on how Hong Kong will forever hold special memories for him, Serevi said: “The first time I went to Hong Kong, it was such an amazing experience that when I came back I thought I’d work hard to make the team every year. It’s the best Sevens tournament in the world and it’s difficult to compare it with any other tournament. The atmosphere there is so special, so unique.”
Serevi’s magic was not just restricted to Hong Kong, though, as he lit up Rugby stadiums all over the world with his outstanding array of skills. His iconic status is such that in the summer of 2006 a group of Rugby enthusiasts named their team ‘The Sons of Serevi’ after him.
Able to turn a game on its head in the blink of an eye with a swivel of his hips, an untouchable side-step or through a wonderfully weighted pass, Serevi still holds the record for most points scored (297) in Rugby World Cup Sevens tournaments.
In Rugby terms he possessed a sixth sense, prompting his former coach Franck Boivert to say: “When he plays, Serevi shows to the blind, talks to the deaf and gets the mute to sing.”
Serevi was one of the few players to play both Fifteens and Sevens formats, the former taking him to play for clubs in England, France and Japan. He appeared in 38 Tests for Fiji at Fifteens, including three Rugby World Cup campaigns, scoring 221 points in a stop-start career that ran from 1989 to 2003. He also represented the Barbarians five times and is the only player in Fijian Rugby to have played in every position across the backline.
While he played both formats, it was in the Sevens arena that his genius was plain for all to see. New Zealand Sevens legend Eric Rush once admitted: “At times when we played Fiji, the things Serevi did on the field made me want to turn around and clap.”
For the finest Sevens player of all time Serevi’s swansong in April 2009 appropriately came at the Greenyards, the home of Melrose RFC and the place where the sport was born in 1883. Turning out in the unlikely colours of Leeds Metropolitan University, Serevi’s involvement lasted only one tie as his adopted side lost to then Scottish champions Ayr.
Reflecting on his final match, he said: “The goal was to come to Melrose and it didn’t matter if I spent five minutes or a whole day on the field. This is where Sevens Rugby started and it is part of my life because Sevens has made me the person I am today.”
As a coach he was no less successful. In his first full season as Fiji Sevens player-coach in 2005-06, Serevi led Fiji to their first and only IRB Sevens World Series title, breaking New Zealand’s stranglehold on the series. They were also bronze medallists at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
Fiji Rugby Union CEO Manasa S Baravilala said: “It’s a huge honour for ‘Wai’ to be included into the IRB Hall of Fame and it’s an equally grand moment for Fiji Rugby and at quite a poignant time with Fiji Rugby celebrating its 100 years of existence this year.”
“It’s because of players such as Waisale Serevi, who rose from obscurity to dazzle and delight rugby fields and fans around the world, that Fiji Rugby is considered one of world sport’s iconic brands producing players who pass, score and mesmerize from any corner of the paddock in any corner of the world.”
Along with his family and his strong Christian faith, Rugby continues to anchor Serevi’s world. In co-founding Serevi Rugby Nation, the 44-year-old has turned his attention to giving back to the Game that has given him so much.
Serevi is now based in Seattle, USA, with his wife and three children and spends his time helping to spread the Rugby gospel as Rugby ambassador, coach and community builder in equal measure.