The Legacy of DJ Forbes

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HSBC Paris Sevens
PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 13: Dj Forbes of New Zealand runs with the ball during the HSBC rugby sevens match between New Zealand and Wales on May 13, 2017 in Paris, France. (Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images for HSBC)

The legacy of New Zealand Sevens star DJ Forbes is irrefutable. Eleven years, 512 World Series Games, 89 World Series tournaments, 153 Tries. Impressive stats in anyone’s language. Yet this alone does not define the history of the great DJ Forbes, who early last week announced his retirement from International Sevens Rugby.

Forbes was a great leader on the field, and a great role model off it.

The Legacy of DJ Forbes

Described by New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew as “an integral part of an incredibly successful All Blacks Sevens outfit that defined the way the game is played” Forbes was synonymous with strength, determination, and a willingness to leave it all on the field.

During a well-documented career in a team under the coaching excellence of Sir Gordon Tietjens, Forbes carved out a legacy like no other. Instantly recognizable as much for his warm smile as he was for his often massive beard, Forbes lead the Sevens team to numerous wins. Labeled as an inspiration, and as a visionary, the impact Forbes had not only on Sevens, but on rugby as a whole is undeniable.

During its heyday the Wellington Sevens tournament in particular was a great opportunity to see Forbes in full flight. New Zealand won the title on numerous occasions, to the delight of the thousands who crammed into Westpac Stadium.

Of course it’s fair to say Forbes found himself welcomed around the world. This international travel though was not without its sacrifices. In announcing his retirement Forbes acknowledged and payed tribute to the support from his wife and family during his time with the team, noting the pressures that travel and tournaments put on his family.

Family First

In fact his family was perhaps one of his greatest sources of strength. As a proud and dedicated family man, Forbes regularly paid tribute to the influence his faith and family had over him as a person as well as a rugby player. On field Forbes was a warrior who never backed down. Off field he was a humble, warm and welcoming individual always willing to give of himself to the fans.

The question that needs to be asked though is ‘what does the departure of DJ Forbes mean to the New Zealand Sevens?’

Next Step for New Zealand Sevens

For the longest time, the All Black Sevens team has been a dominant force in World Rugby. However in the Rio games it looked like ‘the wheels fell off’ a bit. As much as the team was stacked with star players, they found themselves mired in injury concerns.

They also battled performance issues against teams that you just can’t afford to go against without bringing you’re A game. Something Fiji showed in their brilliant gold medal victory.

If anything defines New Zealand rugby though it is resilience. The All Black Sevens always bring everything to the field. Forbes’ departure will be felt, no mistake there. However a team that has the likes of Scott Curry, Sherwin Stowers and Tim Mikkelson is still on track to achieve future success.

The fact that Forbes has also indicated a desire to go into a coaching role sends a very strong message. His playing career may have ended, yet Forbes still has a lot to offer the sport. Forbes is a well documented leader. The prospect of DJ Forbes as a coach is an exciting one indeed.

The Road Ahead

For now the focus of the New Zealand Sevens team needs to be on growth, cohesion and development. The Sevens Rugby World Cup is on the horizon. Head coach Clark Laidlaw will have little time for sentiment. The team will be wanting to send a message early. New Zealand will want redemption as much as blood. Following on from the Mens and Womens 15’s success, there will be massive expectations on New Zealand’s Sevens team to provide a much better showing at the Rugby World Cup. Perhaps Forbes stepping aside is therefore a wise move not only for himself, but also for the team.

The World Rugby HSBC Sevens Series begins in Dubai in December. Ahead lies eight months of gruelling travel and competition. As well as the series theteam faces the Commonwealth Games in April. Then there is the obvious build up to the World Cup in July. The opportunity to bring fresh blood into the team will mean more stamina, more longevity and a chance to develop greater depth within the side.

End of an Era

One thing is certain, the legacy of DJ Forbes is one that will stand the test of time.

Steve Tew correctly describes the retirement of DJ Forbes as the end of an era. An era that significantly changed the game of Sevens rugby. One that saw New Zealand stand head and shoulders above the rest. Forbes leaves some big shoes to fill. A solid career, and a proud legacy to leave behind which will no doubt inspire the team even in his absence.

The 2017/18 HSBC Sevens Series will no doubt be as electric and frenetic as ever. I look forward with interest to what the ‘Men In Black’ can do with this upcoming programme.

 

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