Early Years (1986-1995)
New Zealand Forces Southeast Asia won their third straight Cup title in 1989.
The 10s has a rich tradition of attracting stars, both established and future, ever since it was inaugurated in 1986. In fact, the 10s has attracted 19 World Cup winners – including 10 All Blacks – from the inaugural World Cup in 1987 through to 2015.
However, England were arguably the biggest supplier of star dust to the 10s in the early years, before the advent of professionalism in 1995. Most of the big names played for Neary’s Select (1989, 1990) and then England Classicals (1991, 1992, 1994) or for Harlequins (1989) and Marauders (1993, 1994, 1996, 1997), who had a strong Harlequins connection.
In the early years, England stars at the 10s include eight of the team who lost to Australia in the 1991 World Cup final – prop Jeff Probyn, locks Wade Dooley and Paul Ackford, back-rowers Peter Winterbottom and Mickey Skinner, captain Will Carling and fellow centre Jeremy Guscott, and record-scoring wing Rory Underwood.
All apart from Skinner played all four matches of England’s victorious Five Nations campaign earlier in 1991. In fact, Underwood (Royal Air Force), in his prime at 28, and England Classicals trio Skinner, Ackford and Probyn all played in Hong Kong just days after winning the 1991 Grand Slam!
Probyn, Dooley, Winterbottom, Carling, Guscott and Underwood helped England retain the Five Nations title in 1992, while Skinner, scrumhalf Dewi Morris and No. 8 Tim Rodber (who headed Omgeo Legends in 2002) were other members of that victorious side to play at the 10s.
Carling helped White Hart Marauders reach the Cup final at the 10s in 1992, when they lost to a Warblers side led by former Australia flanker Bill Calcraft.
In 1993, Guscott and Morris were current England stars as they helped White Hart Marauders reach the 10s final again, just a year after both players won the Grand Slam.
Other England stalwarts to play at the 10s in the early years included towering No. 8 Ben Clarke and winger Tony Underwood, who were both current internationals while helping Marauders to the 1994 final, along with Winterbottom.
Centre Clive Woodward, flyhalves Les Cusworth and Stuart Barnes, scrumhalf Nigel Melville, hooker Peter Wheeler and prop Paul Rendall were other England players from the amateur era to play in the 10s.
Woodward – who helped England win the Grand Slam in 1980 and coached England to victory at the 2003 World Cup – reached the 1989 Cup final with Neary’s Select, arguably the first all-star side to compete at the 10s, although Harlequins also featured half-a-dozen England internationals.
Neary’s Select also featured No. 8 Bob Hesford, flyhalf John Horton and flanker Mike Rafter plus a young Skinner, who was playing in Hong Kong between appearances at the 1987 and 1991 World Cups, while Wales prop Graham Price was a non-English inclusion.
Scotland stars also started to come from 1990, when Gavin and Scott Hastings, and winger Iwan Tukalo of the 1990 Grand-Slam winning side all played for Edinburgh. In 1993, the Scottish Survivors side of 1993 featured 1989 Lions captain Finlay Calder, centre Jim Renwick and wing Roger Baird. In 1994, Gavin Hastings was among a host of Scotland stars to play for Quality Street Gang Exiles.
Aside from Price (Neary’s Select 1989), Wales internationals in the early years included flyhalf Gareth Davies and wing Arthur Emyr. Both represented the multi-national Warblers in the early 1990s, with Davies victorious in 1991.
Ireland star Brendan Mullin also helped Warblers to victory in 1991, while the 1994 Irish Survivors featured centres Mike Gibson and David Irwin and wing Terry Kennedy.
Australia were also well represented in the early years, particularly by the Warblers, who won the Cup with Glen Ella on their first two appearances in 1991 and 1992, and although Mark Ella appeared in 1993, they were unable to complete a hat-trick.
Wallaby lock Rod McCall, a World Cup winner in 1991 who also played in the 1995 edition, turned out for Warblers in 1992 and 1993, while No. 8 Ross Reynolds, scrumhalf Philip Cox and fullback Roger Gould also represented the star-studded side.
Tim Gavin, who won over 40 caps for Australia from 1983-89, was one of the stars for Caboolture in 1991 along with fellow Wallabies Andrew Slack, Chris Roche and Greg Martin, while Glen Ella and Tony Melrose represented the side in 1994.
All Blacks flyhalf Wayne Smith and prop Bill Bush represented Belfast RFC in 1990, but centre Frank Bunce was the best-known of the New Zealand internationals of the early years as he helped the Warblers win successive titles in 1991 and 1992.
Capped four times by Samoa in 1991, Bunce went on to win over 50 caps for New Zealand from 1992-97, including reaching the 1995 World Cup final in South Africa. For more, see In The Middle (1996-2005)