With only a fortnight to go until New Zealand's men and women begin the defence of their Rugby World Cup Sevens titles at AT&T Park in San Francisco, we take a look back at the six previous editions of the tournament.
1993: Harriman springs England surprise
Murrayfield was undergoing a major renovation at the time of the first RWC Sevens which involved a wide range of countries including the likes of Chinese Taipei and Latvia. However, it was the established rugby-playing nations that made their mark, with Fiji, England, Australia and Ireland eventually emerging from a gruelling eight-match schedule as semi-finalists.
Willie Ofahengaue’s try in the final move of the match broke Irish hearts and secured a memorable 21-19 victory for Australia, while the other semi-final featured a tackle later termed ‘moment of the tournament’. Dave Scully’s challenge met the charging Mesake Rasari so hard that it not only stopped the run, but also allowed England to win the ball and score a try en route to a 21-7 win.
The final was equally enthralling with England captain Andrew Harriman using all of his blistering pace to round David Campese for the opening try. Campese and Michael Lynagh were among the scorers for Australia, but it was England who won 21-17. With what was effectively a scratch side, England had become the first holders of the Melrose Cup.
The other nations celebrating at a cold and wet Murrayfield were Argentina and Japan, winners of the Plate and Bowl respectively. Argentina beat Spain 19-12, while Japan overcame hosts Scotland 33-19.
1997: Serevi keeps his promise
Scotland may be the birthplace of sevens, but Hong Kong has long been its spiritual home. So it was only fitting that the second RWC Sevens was held there in 1997 – the 21st year of the prestigious Hong Kong Sevens.
Fiji had arguably been the most impressive of the eight pool winners, the tournament favourites not conceding a point in reaching the Cup quarter-finals and scoring 205 of their own. At the heart of Fiji’s progression was captain Waisale Serevi, the sevens maestro who finished the tournament with 117 points – 26 coming in the 56-0 quarter-final defeat of Korea.
Samoa were their next opponents, having ended England’s reign with a 21-5 victory, and Fiji came out on top 38-14. In the other semi-final, South Africa, inspired by captain Joost van der Westhuizen, proved too strong for New Zealand to end their hopes of a fourth straight victory in the Hong Kong Sevens.
The final was one of the greatest games of sevens ever seen and one that kept the 40,000 crowd on the edge of their seats until Fiji emerged 24-21 victors. Serevi had come good on his promise to bring the Melrose Cup home. “Sevens is part of every Fijian rugby player’s life and the Rugby World Cup Sevens means a lot to me and the people of Fiji,” he said.
Tonga overcame hosts Hong Kong 40-19 in the Plate final, while the USA beat Japan 40-28 to win the Bowl.
2001: Rush exit fuels New Zealand fire
In January 2001, the Argentine beach resort of Mar del Plata hosted the third Rugby World Cup Sevens and among the host of returning nations, were four debutants in Kenya, Chile, Russia and Georgia.
Defending champions Fiji, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia topped their respective pools and were joined in the Cup quarter-finals by runners-up Argentina, Canada, England and Samoa.
Australia looked impressive, as had Fiji with Rupeni Caucau announcing his arrival on the world stage with seven tries in two games, while New Zealand suffered a huge blow when inspirational captain Eric Rush broke his leg against England. With Rush absent, a certain Jonah Lomu filled in and New Zealand still managed to reach the semi-finals along with Australia, Fiji, and Argentina.
Despite the support of the home crowd, Argentina were unable to match their quarter-final heroics against South Africa, losing 31-7 to New Zealand. The other semi-final was a much closer affair with Australia recovering from 14-0 down to beat Fiji for the first time in two years.
A new champion was guaranteed and New Zealand made sure it was them who added their name to the honours board with a 31-12 victory, Lomu scoring a hat-trick in a man-of-the-match display.
Russia overcame neighbours Georgia 24-12 to win the Plate final – thereby ensuring they were the highest ranked Europeans behind former champions England – while Chile edged Portugal 21-19 in the Bowl final.
2005: Double delight for Fiji in Hong Kong
Hong Kong became the first country to host two Rugby World Cup Sevens and Fiji the first to win the competition twice after dethroning New Zealand in front of another sell-out crowd.
Fiji had gone through the pool stages unbeaten, as had New Zealand, although not before the All Blacks Sevens survived an almighty scare from Tonga. South Africa bounced back from an opening day loss to debutants Tunisia to keep their Cup hopes alive while England won an equally unpredictable pool, on points difference from France and Samoa.
While New Zealand and England enjoyed convincing wins over France and Scotland in the quarters, Fiji had to dig deep to overcome Argentina 22-14 and Australia squeezed home 15-14 against South Africa.
Having seen New Zealand beat Australia 24-20 in the first of the semi-finals, Fiji needed a sudden-death extra-time score from Waisale Serevi to make the final and deny England the chance to hold both the Webb Ellis and Melrose Cups at the same time.
Fiji then claimed the RWC Sevens title in an amazing show of power and strength, defeating New Zealand 29-19, capping off a fairytale ending to the tournament for captain Serevi, who
held aloft the Melrose Cup in the same stadium as he had eight years earlier. “The World Cup is special to me, and to win two in Hong Kong was a bonus,” he said.
There was further success for the Pacific islands with a strong-half surge seeing Samoa overcome Portugal 29-7 in the Plate final, while Italy beat Canada 7-5 to win the Bowl.
2009: Wales upset the old order
Seven months before International Olympic Committee members voted in favour of welcoming rugby sevens onto the Olympic programme, Dubai hosted the fifth edition of RWC Sevens but, crucially, the first to feature both a men’s and a women’s competition.
The action was intense from the outset and there were notable performances and upsets in the early rounds, but the tournaments will forever be remembered for an outstanding set of Cup quarter-final matches.
In the women’s event USA and New Zealand passed through unscathed but alarm bells started ringing when South Africa shocked Spain and then Australia pulled off what seemed like a giant-killing against England.
One conversion proved the difference for favourites New Zealand over USA and when Australia saw off an inspired South Africa by a single try it set up a trans-Tasman tussle to determine the first women’s champions. It took a try by Shelly Matcham 36 seconds into sudden-death extra-time to split the team and ensure it was Australia who had their name engraved on the trophy.
The form book was well and truly ripped up in the men’s event as Wales beat 2001 champions New Zealand 15-14, England fell to Samoa in an extra-time thriller, South Africa came unstuck against Argentina and, most brutally of all, defending champions Fiji were taken apart by Kenya.
Paul John’s Wales accounted for Samoa in the semi-finals before Argentina shut out Kenya 12-0. The final was on a knife-edge at 12-12 with a minute to go until Aled Thomas raced away to score the decisive try and Wales, the 80-1 outsiders, were champions.
2013: Double delight for New Zealand
With the 80,000-seater Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow providing the focal point, RWC Sevens 2013 served as a reminder of rugby’s increasing global reach as well as producing some compelling action on the field of play.
Rising to the occasion, hosts Russia provided the story of the women’s pool stages. They followed a win against Japan and a draw with France with a dramatic 17-15 upset of England to top their pool. Russia would come unstuck in the quarter-finals, losing narrowly to a Canadian side who themselves went on to reach the final with a win over surprise package Spain.
In the end, though, nobody would have an answer to New Zealand, who arrived in Moscow as the inaugural Women’s Sevens Series champions and ran out 29-12 winners in the final with Portia Woodman and Kayla McAlister standout players.
The men’s tournament went largely to form, Wales providing the biggest shock across the six pools with victory over two-time champions Fiji, but their title defence came to an end against New Zealand in the quarter-finals. In the same half of the draw Fiji edged South Africa, while in the bottom half England beat Australia by a single score and Kenya needed extra time to see off France.
The rest of the knock-out stages fell prey to a spectacular electrical storm, the lightning overhead forcing Fiji and New Zealand off the pitch on safety grounds with the All Blacks Sevens leading 17-0. The score remained that way once play resumed.
The conditions under foot were no better when England overcame Kenya 12-5, but in the final England simply had no answer to an inspired New Zealand who won at a canter, 33-0.