Bob Dwyer's inside story on the class of '88 in Hong Kong

by staff

The Hong Kong Sevens tournament was first played in 1976, with 12 teams competing in front of a small crowd of 3,000 people at the HK Football Club.

Since the inaugural event, Australia has won the tournament five times but has left Hong Kong Stadium without a Cup Final win for the past 27 years.

Bob Dwyer coached the last Australian team to victory in 1988, which featured a host of stalwart players including former Wallabies David Campese, Michael Lynagh and Jeff Miller, who all went on to feature in the 1991 Rugby World Cup triumph.

The 88’ Australian Sevens team blitzed the Hong Kong draw, scoring 145 points and conceding just 22 over five matches, with wins over fellow favourites Fiji (semi-final) and New Zealand (Cup Final).

The Aussie side beat their Trans-Tasman rivals by one point to claim top honours, holding on to an early lead to win the Cup Final (13-12) over New Zealand in front of a sell-out crowd.

Dwyer put the success of his team down to their knowledge of the seven-aside-game and the bond the players created throughout the tournament.

“We understood the game of Sevens very well and we certainly had some good players in our side. I mean with David Campese and Michael Lynagh in the backline you’re off to a good start,” Dwyer said.

“Our plan was to constantly attack. I think all of the players understood their roles but also knew how to be strong in defence and how to keep the ball away from tight situations.

“The whole team seemed to complement each other on and off the field, which gave us an edge over our opponents.”

Although the game and profile of Sevens is growing at a frenetic pace right across the globe, Dwyer believes the sport is still built on a few fundamental characteristics.

“Someone once told me you need good breaks to play Sevens and it’s true.

“You need to be able to put yourself into that situation to attack a defender at one angle and then have the footwork to get out of trouble and go again.

“Acura Niuqila and Brad Burke had phenomenal breaks, which really allowed us to construct the style and shape that we wanted to play that year.”

Dwyer always knew the Hong Kong Sevens tournament would turn into a worldwide sporting sensation and mentioned that fans struggled to find a seat back in 1988.

“We had such a professional approach to games and we also took time away from Rugby to enjoy the atmosphere that the event had to offer. It was great fun for the athletes and the spectators alike.”

“Back then, the players from all of the teams sat together in a player’s pavilion at one end of the field, which really added to the comradery and spirit of the tournament.

“All of the players got on really well no matter what country they were representing, it was the sort of tournament where you made lifelong friends,” Dwyer said.

As the Australian Rugby Union’s 1988 Annual Report noted: “A strong team, under its new Manager/Coach Bob Dwyer, produced the flair, style and form for which the team is renowned to win the championship.”

40 years on, the event now features 28 countries from around the world and is expected to draw crowds of more than 120,000 to Hong Kong Stadium over the weekend - a legacy Australia’s Class of ’88 helped to build.

1988 Australian Sevens squad

Michael Lynagh (QLD, captain)

Brad Burke (NSW)

David Campese (NSW)

Julian Gardner (QLD)

Tim Gavin (NSW)

Jeff Miller (QLD)

Acura Niuqila (NSW)

Brian Smith (QLD)

Steve Tuynman (NSW)

Bob Dwyer (Manager / Coach)

Australia results at the Hong Kong Sevens, 26-27 March 1988

Australia 46 Dubai 4, Pool Stage

Australia 32 Japan 0, Pool Stage

Australia 36 Italy 0, Quarter-Final

Australia 18 Fiji 6, Semi-Final

Australia 13 New Zealand 12, Cup Final