Rugby Sevens: 10 Heroes of the Wellington Sevens
Since its inception in 2000, the Wellington Sevens has become the biggest festival on the New Zealand, and possibly the world, rugby calendar. No other event can claim to combine the same mix of a party atmosphere and good quality play, making the event one to look forward to.
With the 2012 event due to kick off on Friday, there's no reason to expect this will slow up and many fans are once again gearing themselves up for another big weekend.
The past 12 tournaments have had their share of top performers, all whom can claim a place in Wellington Sevens folklore. This list looks back at 10 of the very best of these players, men who have mesmerised us time and time again with their unquestionable talents.
10. Mikaele Pesamino
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We start our list with one of the recent stars of the tournament, the Samoan try-scoring beast, Mikaele Pesamino.
Pesamino is big, strong and fast, a good combination in sevens. Consequently, he became Samoa's biggest threat, scoring plenty of tries and providing plenty of entertainment for the crowd.
His performance in 2007 was his best in Wellington to date, where he inspired Samoa to their one and only title in a 17-14 upset over the heavily favoured Fijians.
In 2010 Pesamino would be named World Sevens Player of the Year, and despite Samoa only finishing runners-up in Wellington, Pesamino delivered a memorable performance up there with the best individual weekends in the event's history.
9. Fabian Juries
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There's not much to him, standing at just 5'8" and 76 Kg, but Fabian Juries has been South Africa's best weapon over the past decade, and he always seemed to prosper in Wellington.
He was a good stepper and an adept finisher, making him a tough player to defend for opposition. Few players have possessed the footwork of Juries and it is this that has provided many memorable highlights and has seen him one of the more memorable players in the history of the Wellington Sevens.
8. Tomasi Cama
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New Zealand's best playmaker, Tomasi Cama, claims a spot amongst the heroes of the Wellington Sevens with some outstanding performances in recent years.
As with many players on this list, Tomasi is a small, fast, agile player who possesses the ability to dazzle his opponents and put his outside men away, making him possibly the best playmaker since Serevi himself.
He boasts titles in 2008 and 2011, both of which he was key in allowing teammates to flourish. Indeed, he was a great helping hand in starting the careers of Victor Vito in 2008 and Declan O'Donnell three years later.
Tomasi will return to Wellington once more in 2012 and after showing good form in the first part of the season pre-Christmas, it wouldn't be hard to imagine his name featuring higher on this list come the end of the weekend.
7. Amasio Valence
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A four-time champion of this event, Amasio Valence became one of the most well-known players for New Zealand and, consequently, became a crowd favourite in Wellington.
He was used as a sweeper a lot and was adept at setting his players up, while also being able to find the line himself, scoring 112 tries in his sevens career. Along with this he was one of the most intelligent players of the past decade.
He showed great longevity over his career, still playing a crucial part in New Zealand's fourth title in his last Wellington Sevens in 2008.
6. Will Ryder
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He was dubbed the next Serevi upon his first trip to Wellington in 2005. Fast, elusive, a good head for the game, Ryder had all the makings of the next superstar.
But it was for his efforts the following year in 2006 that Ryder will be best remembered, delivering one of the top performances in a Wellington tournament, putting on a clinic for the entire weekend, ending in Fiji claiming their second title, with a win over South Africa in the Final.
He never quite reached the heights of Serevi, but in a short time did establish his own legacy as a great player and will always be remembered by those who saw him play in his first few years in Wellington.
5. Collins Injera
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Kenyans are always well-received wherever they go, but nowhere more-so than in New Zealand, where they enjoy a status as the "second team" of the crowd.
The Kenyan story is truly the feel-good story of the past decade of sevens, rising from obscurity to genuine contender status, capable of beating anyone on any given day.
No one has been of greater importance to this success than Collins Injera. A blend of agility and pace make him Kenya's most dangerous player, and indeed he is more often than not the go-to player.
He has an eye for the line, usually emerging as his team's top try scorer, in fact he places sixth on the World Series all-time try scorers list.
He's never won a title in Wellington, but given what he's done for his country, making them contenders in every tournament, this is an irrelevant statistic in this situation. His greatness is unquestionable.
4. Ben Gollings
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Possibly England's greatest sevens player of all time, Ben Gollings was always at the forefront of the top players in Wellington.
In his earlier years he made finding the line a habit, proving to be the biggest threat the English held. As he grew older he became better known as a playmaker and a good thinker, finding the ability to put away England's new quicks.
To add to this Gollings was a top goal kicker, arguably the best in Wellington Sevens history. The statistics back this up, as he leads all-time list of points scored on the World Series Circuit, with 2,652, nearly double that of his nearest competitor.
Perhaps the mark Gollings made on New Zealand though is best seen through the fact that he was signed up to play the 15-man version of the game by New Zealand team Tasman, in 2006 and 2007. Very few overseas can claim to have played in the New Zealand provincial rugby competition, even fewer can claim to have made the mark through sevens.
His career included one title, but it seems he will not add to this as he has chosen not to re-sign with the RFU.
3. DJ Forbes
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The current New Zealand captain, DJ Forbes, has become one of the most recognisable faces in world sevens over recent years and nowhere more-so than in front of his home crowd in Wellington.
A real workhorse in the New Zealand team, Forbes brings the hard-edge to the game, providing good forward momentum and competing at the breakdown.
As the New Zealand captain, he was always going to appear high as a hero of this tournament, but his performances justify selection.
This weekend Forbes will once again lead a team entering as favourites, looking to win his third title in Wellington.
2. Eric Rush
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New Zealand's most iconic sevens personality, Eric Rush, finds his place at No. 2 amongst the heroes of the Wellington Sevens.
Rush was an inspirational leader for New Zealand, captaining New Zealand in their first six outings in the tournament, claiming the only three-peat in tournament history between 2003 and 2005.
He had a good all-round game, possessing a turn of pace in his younger days, while also playing the scrapper in the forwards, a role that is key to success in the abbreviated form of the game.
But above all, it was his leadership and cool head on the field that made him such an important part of the New Zealand team.
Nowadays he acts as an assistant coach on the team, further showing his influence. Although he will always be best remembered for his feats as a player, captaining what he made the most dangerous side in the world.
1. Waisale Serevi
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The greatest of all time. Waisale Serevi, the sevens maestro, tops our list of the great heroes of the Wellington Sevens.
And who better to do so?
The man first played Sevens for Fiji in 1989, and over the next decade was to form a reputation as the most dangerous player around with his blend of pace, agility, vision and play-making ability.
By the time the Wellington Sevens emerged he was in the 12th year of his career, by which time most players would be finding it hard to even make their national side.
Not Serevi, though. He entered the first Wellington Sevens still recognised as the best player in the world, and led the way in Fiji's triumph at the first tournament, finishing as the tournament's top points scorer.
He would return to the tournament three more times, winning another title in 2006, where he acted as player-coach.
His final tournament came in 2007, and although he merely played a cameo part in the tournament, the respect he was shown in his final appearance is testament to the impact he's had on the tournament and indeed the game of rugby sevens.