During his tenure as captain New Zealand won the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and the World Cup three years later, as well as six World Series titles.
On the eve of the HSBC New Zealand Sevens, held in Hamilton this weekend for the second year, the 36-year old offers his thoughts on playing in front of a home crowd, how the game has grown since his international debut in 2006, and superstar Rieko Ioane.
New Zealand Times: Your old team are going well after two rounds of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series – they are currently second. How is the feeling in camp ahead of Hamilton?
DJ Forbes: The boys are really excited to get back out on the pitch and get the campaign going again. The hardest part of the Sevens Series is the Christmas break and trying to find your groove again. It will be interesting to see who has done their work and managed to stay on top of their game. The boys know what is expected of them, though. They will have relaxed a little over Christmas with their families but they will have switched back into gear quickly and have been working hard – especially before a home tournament.
NZT: What is it like to play in front of your friends and family on home soil?
DF: All of the New Zealand players will have been desperate to impress Clark Laidlaw to be selected to be in the 12-man squad for the weekend, I can promise you that. A lot of the players on the circuit might choose Hong Kong as their favourite tournament, but it is extra special to play at home. You don’t get the chance often, especially in sevens, to play in front of your home crowd.
NZT: The last time New Zealand won at home was in 2016, the penultimate year of Wellington hosting the tournament. Teenager Rieko Ioane scored two late tries to win the final 24-21 against South Africa. Rieko is now starring for the All Blacks. What do you make of his talent?
DF: Before he was called up to the sevens squad in 2015 we had heard about him on the local rugby grapevine. We had all seen the footage from his glory days at school. Some of the stuff he was doing as a kid was amazing. To Rieko’s great credit, he has met all the great expectations many had for him. It was great to have the chance to play alongside him in his early days, see his ability at close range, and it is fantastic to see him succeeding at the highest level in rugby.
NZT: Sevens has grown so much since you started out – in no small part thanks to the support of top-tier Sevens Series sponsors HSBC, who are striving to spread the game from the grassroots upwards with various initiatives. Olympic inclusion has also helped build interest and attracted funding. How would you access it now?
DF: It has been amazing to watch the growth of sevens around the world. It has developed so much since I made my debut. Being an Olympic sport, countries can apply for grants and that has changed the game. It provides the opportunity for smaller nations, who might not previously have had the resources or manpower, to get involved with rugby.
Oliver Pickup is a London-based, multi-award-winning freelance journalist. He specialises in sport – particularly rugby union – as well as technology. He can be found on Twitter at @OliverPickup.