in The Middle (1996-2005)
Peter Winterbottom (back row, second left) and Gavin Hastings (back row, far right) helped Quality Street win the Plate in 1997.
After rugby became professional in August 1995, the appearance of big names at the 10s slowed down, although plenty of current and established internationals still made their way over to Hong Kong.
Australia were arguably the biggest supplier of stardust during this period with the arrival in 1996 of the Australian Rugby Legends.
The side featured the likes of the Ella brothers, fullback Roger Gould, hooker Tom Lawton, flanker Chris Roche, flyhalf Tony Melrose, No. 8 David Carter and centres Lloyd Walker, Matthew Burke (not to be confused with fullback Matt Burke, born 1973) and a young Nathan Grey, two years before he won the 1999 World Cup.
New Zealand internationals started to come in bigger numbers, along with a number of up-and-coming Kiwis who would go on to become All Blacks. Aliens, who won on their debut in 1993 and played through 2010, were a big recruiter of former, current and future All Blacks as a side originally formed of Kiwis playing professionally in Japan.
Scrumhalf Graeme Bachop, who played in the 1991, 1995 and 1999 World Cups (the latter for Japan), played for Aliens four times from 1996, while lock Jamie Joseph played three times from 1996, later returning to lead Otago Shepherds in 2003
Winger Hosea Gear, No. 8 Arran Pene and scrumhalf Anthony Strachan were among other All Blacks to play for Aliens, while former Tonga lock Willie Los’e was a key player before coaching the side for several years.
Sevens star Scott Pierce was a regular crowd favourite from the Aliens’ first appearance, while other New Zealand Sevens stars included flanker Dallas Seymour (2002), flanker Scott Waldrom (2007) and legendary scrumhalf Tomasi Cama, who played in the team’s final outing in 2010.
The 10s’ reputation for uncovering the stars of tomorrow was best illustrated in 2003, when five future All Blacks competed, including Jerome Kaino and Conrad Smith, long-time teammates and back-to-back World Cup winners in 2011 and 2015.
Kaino, then 19, was among four future All Blacks – along with centre Ben Atiga, flyhalf Nick Evans and giant forward Sione Lauaki – in a New Zealand Metro team that beat Aliens 24-12 in the Cup final. Smith, then 21, played for Otago Shepherds, before making his All Blacks debut in November 2004.
Tony Brown and Pita Alatini, both New Zealand regulars from 1999 to 2001, both played in 2005 for New Zealand Legends, another Kiwi side along with Aliens and Metro that was helping escalate the standard of the tournament.
Three players from England’s 1995 World squad all appeared at the 10s at the start of the pro era. Prop Victor Ubogu and flanker Steve Ojomoh played for Marauders in 1996, while in 2002 No. 8 Tim Rodber and centre Phil De Glanville starred for Omgeo Legends.
Scott Hastings, formerly Scotland’s most-capped player, also played for Omgeo Legends that year, while big brother Gavin played for a star-studded Quality Street side in both 1994 and 1997. Flyhalf Craig Chalmers played for Marauders in 1996 while still a Scotland international.
Wales were represented by Lions legends Ieuan Evans (Scrum.com in 2000) and centre Scott Gibbs (Samurai in 2003).
In 2002, the Irish Rugby Legends fielded former Ireland internationals including fullback Jim Staples, lock Gabriel Fulcher, prop Gary Halpin and winger Niall Woods, along with Springbok flyhalf Kevin Putt.