March 27th 2013
By Crystal Wilde
Legendary Fijian winger Robert Howard returns to Hong Kong to see his team win their 14th Sevens, 35 years after lifting the cup himself and 100 years since the birth of rugby in his country.
As Fiji wins the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens for the second year in a row, firmly securing the team’s legacy as one of the most successful Sevens sides of all time, one visiting fan within the blur of blue at the North Stand was even prouder than most.
Last time Robert Howard saw Fiji win the Sevens was in 1978, when he and his teammates beat Manawatu in the competition’s third year in existence. Speaking exclusively to Localiiz, the former winger, a living legend in his home country, explained why he’s back after so long.
“I haven't been to Hong Kong for 34 years, but it’s my 60th so my family said I have to return and relive my glory years,” said Howard. “Back then we played in the other stadium, there were only 16 teams across two days, and we were paid $4 a day. It was also more about the sport than the party in the 70s, but this is much more fun.”
“Hong Kong has changed so much. The airport was in Kowloon last time I was here. When we were coming into land all we could see was cloud. When we got below the cloud, the high rises were above us. It was pretty scary!”
Howard played with the first Fijian winning teams of 1977 and 1978, with the classy finisher claiming the crown as the team’s top try scorer in the latter year. “My favourite Sevens memory is when we beat Manawatu in the 78 final,” Howard told us. “The pitch was soaking wet and we had to wait for an hour for them to pump the water out before we could start playing. When we were finally playing, it started pouring again. Everyone said that they could only see splashing water as I made my tries.”
Howard returned with the team in 1979, but a hat-trick was not to be had, as Fiji was knocked out in the quarter finals by South Korea, marking one of the Flyers’ worst Sevens results to date. But despite feeling bitter disappointment in 79 and pure elation after witnessing his team’s dramatic comeback against Wales in this year’s final, Howard explained that winning isn’t everything for Fijians.
“Our culture is totally different from others. Whether we are winning or losing we are still happy,” Howard said. “We're just glad to be here to support the team, as for us Hong Kong is like a holiday. We’ve swapped one jungle for another.”