2012 Inductee: Waisale Serevi

(IRB.COM) Saturday 23 March 2013
 
 2012 Inductee: Waisale Serevi
IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset presented Waisale Serevi with his Hall of Fame cap in Hong Kong

IRB Hall of Fame - Induction No.57 - Waisale Tikoisolomoni Serevi (1968-) Fiji, Nabua, Nasinu, Mitsubishi, Leicester Tigers, Stade Montois (Mont-de-Marsan), Stade Bordelais (Bordeaux), Staines

Personal details

– Born: 20 May 1968 in Suva, Fiji
– Family: The second of three sons of the late Meli Serevi, a city engineer in Suva, and Sisilia Serevi. His older brother Navitalai played club rugby, while younger brother Meli played for the Suva provincial team. He is married to Karalaini, who has resigned from the Fijian Defence Forces to bring up their three children - daughters Unaisi and Asinate and son Waisale Pierre Jr.
– Education: Delainamasi Government School (1974-1980) and Lelean Memorial (Secondary) School in Nasinu. He failed his Fiji Junior Certificate examination in 1984 due to his commitment to rugby. As he put it, he “played too much and didn’t spend enough time studying.”
– Nicknames: King of Sevens, Small, Wizard and Maestro
– Other sports: Touch rugby and volleyball
– Other: He always had a Biblical reference 'Philippians 4:13' written on his strapping or jersey when he played in major competitions. This reads "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Professional career

– Professional rugby player, professional rugby coach, businessman and one of the founders of the “Serevi Rugby Nation” company in Seattle, USA.

Rugby career (Fifteens)

– Started playing rugby at Delainamasi School as a scrum half in 1978 and continued in the same position at Lelean Memorial School from 1980-1984
– Began training with his province Rewa at the age of 18
– He was selected for the Fiji national squad from Rewa in 1988, to play in the then called AGC South Pacific Championship
– In 1989, he joined Nabua RFC, where - under the guidance of coaches Ratu Kitone Tuibua and Vesito Rauluni - he remained until 1992, when he joined Nasinu RFC.
– Signed for the Japanese club Mitsubishi in 1993 and went on playing for them until 1997.
– He joined Leicester in 1997 on a two-year contract and played eight matches for the Tigers, seven in the starting line-up and one as a sub
– After a season he left to join Stade Montois (Mont-de-Marsan) in France. However, once Vilimoni Delasau and Viliame Satala joined the club he was unable to play due to restrictions on foreign players, so served as the club's backs coach
– He left Mont-de-Marsan to join Stade Bordelais (Bordeaux) in January 2004, but left at the end of the season
– His last professional club was Staines in England. He joined them at the beginning of 2004/05 season, but decided to retire from club rugby at the end of the campaign
–He did however carry on playing Fifteens for the Suva provincial side until 2010
– Played scrum half for Fiji B against Tonga in 1988 and also for a Fiji XV v Australian Fijians as part of the Fiji Rugby Union's 75th anniversary celebrations in 1988
– In 1988 he was on the Fiji national team bench for the ACG South Pacific Championship matches against Wellington, New South Wales and Auckland
– He made his international debut for Fiji against Wellington, when he appeared from the bench for about 10 minutes
– His first start for Fiji was against a New Zealand Divisional XV on 29 October 1988, an occasion he marked by scoring two tries in a 24-20 loss in Suva
– The following year, on 9 April 1989, he appeared at fly half against New South Wales in Suva. This match was followed by the match against Canberra Kookaburras, when he appeared at full back, a position he retained for the match against Queensland during the same tour
– Made his Test test debut at fly half against Belgium on 7 October 1989 and scored two tries in a 76-0 win
– His international career in Fifteens was patchy during the early 1990s. He only appeared in two Tests - one against Tonga in 1992 and one against Scotland a year later
– He returned to the national team, playing on the wing, against Northland in Whangarei, on a three-match tour of New Zealand in June 1996. Fiji finished the tour unbeaten
– In 1997, he did not play Fifteens but returned to the national team in May 1998, coming on for Nicky Little in a satisfying 51-26 win over Scotland in Suva
– He played throughout 1998, including the RWC 1999 qualifying matches against Australia, Samoa and Tonga
– He played throughout the following year, including Rugby World Cup 1999 where Fiji were unlucky to lose to France in a pool match in Toulouse. Serevi played in three of the four RWC 1999 matches, starting against Namibia and coming on as a substitute against Canada and England
– Selected for the Barbarians FC v Scotland in May 2000, the first of his five selections for the Barbarians
– He withdrew from Fifteens XVs for a whole year, returning to the national side against an Italian XV in 2001, when he helped – Fiji win 33-23 by scoring 20 points (two tries, two conversions and two penalties)
– He played his last Test against Japan at RWC 2003, also at fly half, in a 41-13 win, but sadly came off with a broken collarbone after only 10 minutes
– In his Fifteens representative career he made most appearances against Tonga (five) followed by Scotland, France and Samoa (four each)

Against Matches Tries Cons Pens DGs Points Won Drawn Lost
Wales 1 1 1 0 0 7 0 0 1
England 2 0 1 2 1 11 0 0 2
Scotland 4 0 5 4 0 22 1 0 3
Ireland 1 0 1 0 0 2 0 0 1
Australia 1 1 2 2 0 15 0 0 1
South Africa 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Argentina 1 0 1 0 0 2 0 0 1
Italy 2 2 1 1 0 15 1 0 1
France 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4
Spain 1 1 2 0 0 9 1 0 0
Samoa 4 1 3 3 0 20 1 0 3
Tonga 5 0 3 7 1 30 3
0 2
Japan 2 2 4 1 0 19 2 0 0
Canada 2 0 0 0 1 3 1 0 1
USA 1 0 0 1 0 3 1 0 0
NZ Maori (Rep) 2 0 2 2 0 10 0 0 2
Namibia 1 0 8 2 0 22 1 0 0
Uruguay 1 1 4 2 0 19 1 0 0
Belgium 1 2 0 0 0 8 1 0 0
Chile 1 0 2 0 0 4 1 0 0
Total 36 (2) 11 38
25
3
211 15 0 21


Sevens career
 
– Played for Ratu Kitone’s all-conquering Nabua side with the Rauluni brothers (his uncles)
– Selected by Fiji for the Sydney Sevens in 1989
– Selected by for Fiji for the Hong Kong Sevens in 1989, where Fiji lost to New Zealand in the final, but Serevi was voted the Player of the Tournament.
– Played for Fiji in every HK Sevens tournament between then and 2000
– In 1990 Fiji, with Serevi playing an increasingly influential role, won the Hong Kong Sevens, the first of three consecutive titles
– In 1993 Fiji lost to the eventual tournament winners England in the semi-final of the inaugural RWC Sevens in Edinburgh. Serevi finished equal top point scorer for the tournament
– In 1994, 1995 and 1996 Fiji lost the Hong Kong crown to New Zealand, but they were closing the gap, as the 19-17 scoreline in 1996 proved
– In 1997, with Serevi as captain, Fiji won the second RWC Sevens in Hong Kong, defeating South Africa 24-21 in the final. Serevi was the tournament’s top scorer with 117 points
– In 1998, Fiji returned to Hong Kong to win the title, defeating both Australia and New Zealand on their way to a 28-19 win over Samoa in the final. Serevi was voted the Player of the Tournament
– That same year, in the first Commonwealth Games to feature Sevens, Fij reached the final with Serevi at the helm, only to lose 21-12 to New Zealand
– Serevi led Fiji to a satisfying win at the Hong Kong Sevens in 1999, defeating New Zealand 21-12 in the final. That year the International Rugby Board launched the ground-breaking Sevens World Series which Fiji finished runners up in, six points behind champions New Zealand
– He captained the Penguins to two Middlesex Charity Sevens titles in 1999 and 2000, when he played alongside his great rival Eric Rush
– In the IRB Sevens World Series in 2000/01, Fiji finished third behind New Zealand and Australia, with Serevi available only for two tournaments in London and Wales
– At RWC Sevens 2001 in Argentina, Fiji, captained by Serevi, were knocked out in the semi-finals by Australia. Serevi was dropped by new coach Tomasi Cama and missed the Hong Kong Sevens for the first time in 12 years
– However, at the end of the year, he returned to form to lead Fiji to the World Games title in Akita, where they defeated Australia 35-19 in the final
– In 2001/02 Fiji dropped to fourth in the IRB Sevens World Series final standings after being also overtaken by both South Africa and England
– At the Hong Kong Sevens in 2001, Fiji knocked out New Zealand in the semi-final but lost the title decider to England. In the quarter-final against Australia, Serevi had scored 13 points to become the first player to score more than 1,000 points in the Hong Kong tournament’s history. That year Serevi captained Fiji at the second Commonwealth Games in Manchester, where they lost 33-17 to New Zealand in the final.
– He was dropped for missing a fitness test in 2003 (due to club commitments in France). He was back in the Sevens squad in 2004, only to be dropped again by the new coach Sainivalati Laulau and missed Hong Kong for a second consecutive year
– In 2005 Serevi returned to Fiji where he was appointed the captain of the RWC Sevens team by coach Wayne Pivac. In Hong Kong, he led Fiji to a second RWC Sevens title, defeating England in the semi-final after sudden-death extra time and New Zealand in the final.
– Serevi then became player-coach of the Fiji Sevens team for the last three tournaments of the 2004/05 Series. In his first full season as player-coach in 2005/06, Serevi led Fiji to their first-ever IRB Sevens World Series title, breaking New Zealand’s stranglehold on the trophy

Coaching career

– In 2001 he joined the coaching staff of Mont-de-Marsan in France due to restrictions on foreign players in the French second division
– He was appointed Fiji Sevens coach in 2005, while still a player. That year Fiji did well in Singapore, London and Paris, and won the gold medal at the World Games in Germany
– He coached Fiji (with Jo Savou as his assistant) to the IRB Sevens World Series title in 2005/06, the first time a team, other than New Zealand, had lifted the overall crown
– In 2006, Serevi coached Fiji to the bronze medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, and to the final of Hong Kong Sevens
– In December 2006 he was offered a coaching appointment with the SA Falcons, but he decided to turn it down
– Serevi played for and coached Fiji during the IRB Sevens World Series in 2006/07, when they finished second, two points behind New Zealand
– He was Fiji Sevens player-coach at the Hong Kong Sevens in 2007 when Fiji defeated New Zealand in the semi-final but lost the final to Samoa
– In July 2007 Serevi resigned as coach of the Sevens team
– Technical advisor to Lelean School Under 19s to championships in 2008 and 2009
– In 2008 he became coach of the Chinese Taipei national team for the Hong Kong Sevens and in July he was re-appointed coach of the Fiji team, in time for the 2008/09 IRB Sevens World Series. However, he only managed two more tournaments before splitting with the FRU in January 2009, much to the Fijian public’s disappointment
– Appointed Sevens development officer for the Papua New Guinea RFU, but in March 2010 his working relation with the Union was terminated
– He has moved to Seattle, USA, where, in addition to his business interests, he found time to coach Old Puget Sounds RFC and Central Washington University, while running rugby training workshops for youngsters
 
Career records and highlights

– Between 17 April 1988 (v Wellington) and 23 October 2003 (v Japan), he played a total of 65 matches for Fiji, scoring 341 points (of which 20 tries)
– Of these 65 selections for Fiji, 38 were Tests, in which he scored 221 points (11 tries, 40 conversions and 27 penalties)
– At the time of the induction he was Fiji's fourth highest point scorer
– He was in the Fiji starting line-up on 23 occasions - 16 times at fly half, four times at full back, twice on the wing and once at scrum half
– He is the only Fiji player to have played in every position in the backline
– He played seven times for Fiji in three Rugby World Cup tournaments: two matches at RWC 1991, three at RWC 1999 and two at RWC 2003
– He played for a World XV against Leicester at Twickenham in 1996 and 1997
– Played for the French Barbarians against then world champions South Africa in 1997 in Biarritz, contributing three conversions, two penalties and a drop goal in the 40-22 victory
– He scored 22 points against Tonga in a RWC qualifier at Ballymore in Australia, to book Fiji's place at RWC 1999. He repeated the performance (22 points) in Fiji’s first RWC 1999 match against Namibia in Beziers
– He captained Fiji Barbarians to a 56-38 win over the Australian Barbarians in 2001, scoring one try and successfully kicking all eight conversions for 21 points
– Captained Fiji from full back against the French Barbarians in Toulon, scoring a try and a conversion, to help his country win 17-15 in 2001  
– Played for the Barbarians five times between 2000 and 2004, scoring 32 points
– He played in the 1993, 1997, 2001 and 2005 RWC Sevens tournaments for a record seven Rugby World Cup tournaments altogether (Fifteens and Sevens)
– Captained Fiji to two Rugby World Cup Sevens titles in 1997 and 2005
– Helped Fiji win seven Hong Kong Sevens titles. He played in the Hong Kong Sevens a record 18 times between 1989 and 2007
– By the end of his career, Serevi was the leading point scorer in RWC Sevens history with 297. His compatriot Marika Vunibaka is the next best with 115 points
– In his 21 IRB Sevens World Series tournaments as coach, Fiji reached the final 13 times, winning on six occasions. The team’s worst finish in these 21 tournaments was Plate Winners
– By the end of his career he was the second most prolific try scorer in RWC Sevens history with 19 tries. Vunibaka was first with 23
– Medallist at three Commonwealth games in 1998, 2002 and 2006
– Captained Fiji in the 2001 World Games in Japan, where they won gold, and coached Fiji to gold in the 2005 World Games in Germany

Awards and records

– Player of the Tournament at the Hong Kong Sevens in 1989
– Player of the Tournament at the Hong Kong Sevens in 1990
– Player of the Tournament at the Hong Kong Sevens in 1992
– Top Scorer 117 points (nine tries) at RWC Sevens 1997
– Player of the Tournament at the Hong Kong Sevens in 1998
– First Fiji professional player to be contracted to play in Europe
– Inducted into the Fiji Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee Hall of Fame in 2005
– Elected the Fiji Times Personality of the Year in 2005
– Serevi’s try against Australia in the final of Brisbane Sevens was voted the “Try of the Year” at the Fiji Rugby Awards in 2000
– Awarded an Honorary Science Doctorate (PhD) by Leeds Metropolitan University in England
– Appointed to the Board of the interim Fiji Sports Council
– Appointed special Fiji Police Inspector in charge of youth policing and mentoring
– Inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame at the Hong Kong Sevens in March 2013

What he said

“God gave me the gifts.”

“I discovered rugby at school when I was 10, and the passion for it has never left me ... It is more than a profession, it is a joy. I love playing rugby.”

“... For instance when players arrive at training I tell them to set themselves goals at training. When you train well today, you just cannot rest on that level you just achieved; tomorrow when you come back you aim for the next level, you build up your training. So the next training you get better, say on Tuesday, then better on Wednesday, and so on. At the end of the week for game day you are therefore at your highest level of the week.”

“The team spirit comes from God. You can train, have good players but if the team is not in good spirit, we are not together; religion always brings the boys together.”

“I was just a player for a long time, just wanted to play. But in 1996 Rupeni Ravonou, the national coach, gave me the captaincy of Fiji team. That’s when I learnt to lead. So when you lead, you have to lead every step of the way.”

“What I always tell the players is - we are not here (with the Fiji team) for you or for me - we are here for the people we represent.”

“The first time I went to Hong Kong, it was such an amazing experience that when I came back I thought I’d work hard to make the team every year. It’s the best Sevens tournament in the world and it’s difficult to compare it with any other tournament. The atmosphere there is so special, so unique.”

“In that first year (in Hong Kong ), I wanted to go out onto the field and enjoy myself, especially playing against the big teams and famous opponents like Brooke, Gallagher and Wright from New Zealand. I had seen video tapes of these players and read about them.”

On his first match against Australia in Hong Kong, which Fiji won 28-4 in 1992: “I remember one superb semi-final (in Hong Kong) when we played Australia who had brought their top players – Timmy Horan, Jason Little ... Campo. We won. I scored some tries.”

On scoring a try against Australia in Hong Kong: “For one try, I went back to pick up a loose ball, jogged slowly and all of sudden I side-stepped my way to the try line to score under the posts. I made Tim Horan fall over! I’m still looking for the video of that game to keep as a souvenir.”

“Then of course the World Cup Sevens in 1997 is one of my best memories – it was the first World Cup win for Fiji, and we faced these big guns from South Africa in the final like Joost van der Westhuizen and Andre Joubert.”

On the Hong Kong Sevens: “The atmosphere and everything is still the same now, still the best in the world – only the rugby keeps improving. The competition is getting stronger every year”
 
On who his best teammate was: “Without a doubt that would be Jope Tuikabe, who used to read the game so well. For all those years that we played together he really did a good job on the field. He held the forwards together whilst I looked after the backs. He helped to balance the flow of the game from the forwards to the backline.”

What they said

Franck Boivert (coach in the Fiji Sun): “When he plays Serevi shows to the blind, talks to the deaf, gets the mute to sing.”

Fiji forward Ilaitia Savai in 1991: “He is only a boy now, but he will grow to be one of Fiji’s greats ... Keep an eye on him.”

Graham Eden (Fiji Radio commentator): “Serevi has made us so proud and it was not only his ability but also because of his humility. He never distinguished between himself and his country and that has shown in his willingness to serve as a coach when he could be earning more overseas.”

Fiji Sevens manager Jone Buakula after Serevi had steered his team to victory at the 1996 Japan Sevens: “Serevi is like a vintage wine, he just gets better with age.”
 
David Campese (former Australia wing and pundit): “He is a very, very good player and a great person who has been at the forefront of Sevens in Fiji and should be remembered as one of the greatest players of the Sevens code.”

Fiji coach Wayne Pivac at RWC Sevens 2005: “Waisale is the eyes for the other guys ... he brings the others into the game and puts players into gaps.”

Fiji Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase after RWC Sevens 2005 success: “On behalf of the Government and people of Fiji, I convey our congratulations to you all – Serevi and team members, and the management and coaching staff.”

Fiji Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase after the IRB Sevens World Series title success in 2006: “You have set an example of what we can do as a country through vision, sacrifice, hard work, discipline, and making the best use of your gifts and talents.”

Fiji Rugby Union CEO Ratu Timoci Tavanavanua: “His contribution to rugby in this country can never be understated. I am sure he will remain an icon for all hopeful young players for many, many years to come. On behalf of everyone involved at Fiji Rugby Union, I’d like to thank him sincerely for his unparalleled work in the game.”

New Zealand Sevens legend Eric Rush: “At times when we played Fiji, the things Serevi did on the field made me want to turn around and clap.”

Australia Sevens coach Glen Ella (after Serevi had taken on and beaten the whole Australian team after the hooter to score the winning try at the 2000 Brisbane Sevens):“He’s a freak. That’s all I can say.”

Jeremy Duxbury (Fiji-based rugby journalist): “In Fiji, Serevi is a demigod. His brilliance on the rugby field year in year out for two decades is matched only by the warmth and genuine love he has for his people and his idolising fans. I have never come across such a sports icon that always has the time to greet each and every fan that rushes up to him – something he must do on a daily basis when he is in Fiji.”

Franck Boivert (coach): “This is another strong point of Serevi, that is, he is not a “Ratu” or a chief and therefore the players can talk to him on an equal basis.”

Brendan Gallagher (journalist, The Daily Telegraph): “Serevi’s tries against Toulouse and Treviso during their 1997/98 European Cup campaign are among the best individual efforts in Tigers' history.”
 
Leinster coach Mike Ruddock (after Serevi helped Leicester beat Leinster 47-22): “He was the catalyst of a lot that happened when he went to stand-off in the second half.”

Franck Boivert (coach): “From our point of view, the impact of a true leader such as Serevi on the team was a key factor in the temporary success of the team (Suva). Because of his behaviour and leadership skills the team had a clear direction at training time as well as 'off the field' and during and round game time. Serevi brought with him to the Suva team not only his name and reputation, but an attitude, one that implies humility, honesty and showing by example.”

From the Penguins RFC website: “Penguins won the Middlesex Sevens at Twickenham in 1999 and 2000, captained on both occasions by Waisale Serevi (Fiji). In 1999 victory came, most unusually, only after a “sudden death” play off, when both sides had scored 35 points. The second occasion, in 2000, had a unique aspect in as much as it was the only time two of the best Sevens players in the world played in the same team - namely, Eric Rush (captain, New Zealand Sevens) and Waisale Serevi (captain, Fiji Sevens). Eric observed in a post-match speech that he had spent 13 years chasing Serevi’s tail."

Meri-Jo Brozilieri (journalist, The Seattle Times): “The new face of American rugby is unscarred bronze, has all his teeth, unblemished ears and a straight unbroken nose. Trouble is, it’s unfamiliar to all but a few Americans outside a sport that’s growing in popularity here.”

Additional reporting Jeremy Duxbury