With the Rugby World Cup Sevens kicking off in San Francisco this week, what better time to look back through the annals of the shorter form of rugby union to pick out some of the most exciting and dominant players to ever cross the whitewash? From flying Fijians to teak tough Kiwis and an unbelievably explosive American, here are the seven greatest rugby sevens players of all time:
Ben Gollings (England)
Proof that rugby sevens isn’t purely about scoring tries (although he was very good at that too!), Gollings was the steady heartbeat of the England sevens team for 11 years, and in that time became the first player in World Rugby Sevens Series history to pass 2,000 points. This was in no small part down to the accuracy of his goal kicking – in a sport where conversions are often seen as a luxury bonus, Gollings made sure that England accrued points that other teams wouldn’t. He finished his sevens career with an astonishing 2,652 points – a record that still comfortably stands today.
Perry Baker (USA)
The converted wide receiver might only have come onto the World Rugby Sevens scene in 2014, but the impact the 32-year-old has had on the sport in that time has been almost unprecedented. Sevens is a sport where speed really kills, but Baker has taken it to the next level – it’s a cliche to say that a player can score every time he gets his hands on the ball, but with Baker it’s genuinely true, as evidenced by the fact that in just four seasons, he’s already the USA’s top try scorer ever, and into the top 10 all-time. Baker is without doubt the biggest star that fans will be cheering for at AT&T Park in San Francisco this weekend.
DJ Forbes (New Zealand)
For over a decade, the teak tough Forbes was the heart and soul of a hugely successful New Zealand Sevens team that enjoyed extraordinary success. From 2006 to 2016, the bearded Forbes led the All Blacks Sevens team to six World Rugby Sevens series titles, as well as gold and silver medals at the commonwealth games. While rugby sevens might be primarily about attacking flair, Forbes was also unique in that his game was much more centred around uncompromising defence and physicality, leading from the front and setting the tone for All Blacks teams that dominated both sides of the ball.
Marika Vunibaka (Fiji)
When legendary All Blacks Sevens coach Gordon Tietjens describes you as the fastest player he’s ever seen, you’ve probably got some serious gas. And when the free-scoring Fiji teams of the late 90s and early 2000s needed a home run, they unleashed the 6’2, 216lb monster to lethal effect. Vunibaka was top scorer when Fiji claimed their first Rugby World Cup Sevens title in 1997, while also appearing in 2001 and winning it again in 2005. He remains the top try scorer in Rugby World Cup Sevens history.
Portia Woodman (New Zealand)
It’s not a great exaggeration to say that Woodman has single-handedly transformed the image of women’s sevens, and women’s rugby in general with her scarcely believable displays of try-scoring genius in both codes of the game. The daughter of All Black Kawhena Woodman, Portia promised her father that she’d become ‘the female Jonah Lomu’ and her fast, furious and undeniably exciting style of play has certainly given the winger a highlight reel to rival the great man. With a Sevens player of the year crown, a Rugby World Cup, a Commonwealth Games gold medal and an Olympic silver medal under her belt already, the scope of what the 26-year-old could achieve is gobsmacking.
Eric Rush (New Zealand)
For a man named Rush, the former All Black certainly didn’t hurry his extraordinary rugby sevens career, first representing his country in 1988, and not retiring until 2005 at the age of 39. A pacey wideman with an eye for the tryline, as Rush got older, he compensated for his fading speed with a truly unmatched tactical brain and heroic leadership. Appearing in over 60 tournaments for his country, Rush led New Zealand to Commonwealth Games gold medals in 1998 and 2002, plus the Rugby World Cup Sevens title in 2001.
Waisale Serevi (Fiji)
When we’re talking about the greatest rugby sevens player of all time, there can only be one name in the top spot – Waisale Serevi. The Fiji icon was nicknamed ‘The Wizard’ for the magical way that he played the game, Serevi captivated the imagination of fans around the world with his mesmerising attacking style, which he used to lead Fiji to World Cup glory in both 1997 and 2005. The 1997 tournament was perhaps his finest hour. After crashing out in the semi-finals of the 1993 tournament, Serevi promised to bring the Melrose Cup back to FIji, and set about stamping his authority all over the competition. He scored 59 points in the first three games of the World Cup, then finished up with 117 in total as they defeated South Africa to win Fiji’s first ever World Cup title. Simply put, there’s been none like Serevi before or since, and he remains the greatest ever.