The GFI Era (from 2006)
Jonah Lomu, rugby's biggest superstar, starred for New Zealand Legends in 2007.
In the first year of GFI’s title sponsorship, the star-studded trio of Joe Roff, Toutai Kefu and Matt Cockbain – who helped Australia win the 1999 Rugby World Cup and won 86, 60 and 63 caps respectively – helped the International Panthers win the Plate competition.
Ireland backs Jonathan Bell and Tyrone Howe played for Irish Vikings,
Jonah Lomu, still the Rugby World Cup’s record try scorer despite only competing in the 1995 and 1999 editions, was the star name in 2007, playing for New Zealand Legends as they reached the Cup quarter-finals.
It was a popular return for Lomu, who made his name internationally at the 1994 Hong Kong Sevens, going on to win a hat-trick of titles at the Hong Kong Stadium. In March 2011, he returned to the city to launch the HSBC ARFU Rugby Coaching Tour with fellow All Blacks legend John Kirwan in Happy Valley, and Lomu’s presence distracted a host of 10s teams warming up.
In 2008, Brian Lima was the star draw as he helped Hong Kong Barbarians win the Plate at Sports Road. Just a year earlier, the Samoa legend played the last of an astonishing five successive Rugby World Cups, where ‘The Chiropractor’ injured himself after mis-timing one of his infamous big hits.
Fullback Israel Dagg and prop Charlie Faumuina both played for eventual champions New Zealand Metro before going on to win the World Cup in 2011 and 2015 respectively, while Ben Smith played for New Zealand Legends before he became a World Cup-winning star in 2015.
Bob Skinstad, who captained South Africa 12 times, was a World Cup winner in 2007 and two years later the 33-year-old back-rower came to Hong Kong and helped the Scatterlings of Africa win the Bowl, while former France back Philippe Carbonneau starred for Pyrenees.
For 2010, the Hong Kong Barbarians signed up another rugby legend, Waisale Serevi, who represented Fiji in three Rugby World Cups (1991, 1999, 2003) and is renowned as the best sevens player of all time. Having won the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Hong Kong in 1997 and 2005, Serevi came back to the city to help the Barbarians win the Plate competition.
Two future World Cup-winning All Blacks also competed in 2010, as flanker Sam Cane shone for Samurai and Beauden Barrett ran out for Penguins.
However, the 10s enjoyed a new wave of ‘stardom’ in 2011 courtesy of the BGC Asia Pacific Dragons, coached by David Campese, whose 64 tries for Australia made him international rugby’s record try scorer until last year.
‘Campo’, Player of the Tournament as Australia won the 1991 Rugby World Cup, had plenty to play with, including compatriot George Gregan, a 1999 Rugby World Cup winner and rugby’s most-capped international with 139 tests.
Justin Marshall, New Zealand’s highest-capped scrum-half with 81 appearances and a frequent opponent of Gregan’s, and Christian Cullen, New Zealand’s joint second-highest try scorer with 46, were two other genuine legends of the game.
Rico Gear, another former All Blacks star, was also in the side that reached the final, returned for the Dragons in 2013 and played for Penguins in 2015.
In 2012, legendary New Zealand fullback Mils Muliaina – another Rugby World Cup winner – was the star name for the BGC Asia Pacific Dragons (APDs). Former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga took over the Dragons’ high-profile coaching post and Marshall returned to captain the side, who won the title for the first time.
However, it was the team’s 6’4”, 130kg wing Nemani Nadolo who stole the show. For those who couldn’t believe this rampaging Fijian giant wasn’t playing at the top level, he went on to become Super Rugby’s top try scorer in 2014. As such, the appearance of 14-test All Black Caleb Ralph for International Panthers was somewhat overshadowed.
All Blacks flanker Marty Holah joined the APDs in 2013, when fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder helped Penguins win the title two years before he was named Breakthrough Player of the Year after helping New Zealand win the World Cup.
In 2014, Australia legend George Smith captained the victorious Dragons side that featured former Wallaby Radike Samo, ‘Samoan Bulldozer’ Alesana Tuilagi and Fijian legend Rupeni Caucaunibuca.
Rico Gear and long-time USA captain Todd Clever played for Penguins in 2015, having both appeared twice for the Dragons in previous years.
In 2016 the APDs fielded three former All Blacks – scrumhalf Jimmy Cowan, prop Carl Hayman and lock Isaac Ross – but it was Super Bowl winner Nate Ebner who earned the most media attention as he helped Samurai into the final during his ultimately successful bid to secure a place in the USA Sevens team at the Rio Olympics.