22 May 2017

Sevens success rests on more than Hamilton

3:30 pm on 22 May 2017

Opinion - Moving the Sevens to Hamilton might be seen as the tournament's salvation, but Jamie Wall argues other factors have more influence on whether it will rise again.

The Wellington Rugby Sevens has attracted fans in fancy dress - including this collection of Marilyn Monroes in 2007.

The Wellington Sevens is known for attracting fans in fancy dress, including this collection of Marilyn Monroes in 2007. Photo: PhotoSport

It's been mixed news for Sevens rugby over the last 12 or so hours.

Last night, the All Blacks Sevens once again crashed out of a tournament on the World Series, this time handing Scotland their first ever win over a team in a black jersey.

This is pretty much the icing on the unappetising cake of the last 12 months for the men's programme, who were dumped out of the Olympics and have won absolutely nothing since.

They also don't have a proper coach for some reason, and have seen their home tournament in Wellington become a sad, pitiful shadow of its former self.

But don't worry, the other news is that the City Of The Future is coming to the rescue - Hamilton has picked up the tattered remains of the once proud Wellington event, hosting it from next year on.

Is it going to be necessarily good news? A couple of signs would point to yes, but they have nothing to do with the current tournament or even the way the men's team are playing.

Just a week after this year's Sevens tournament, one of the reasons for its demise also took a blow.

Having enjoyed a couple of early successful editions, the Downer NRL Nines - which helped spirit away the large Auckland market from the Sevens - suddenly found itself surrounded by the dreaded empty-stand effect as well.

People had fallen out of love pretty quickly with the Nines concept, which wasn't helped by the fact that the Warriors had about as much success in the tournament as they've had in anything else they've attempted.

Some good footy was played, but it didn't mask the fact that some big voices in the NRL couldn't see the point in it.

Not only that, Nines event promoters Duco then put on a rugby union Tens event in Brisbane in what looked like an empty, cavernous Suncorp Stadium.

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The crowd at the 2017 Wellington Sevens was well down on previous years. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

This one was a little bit of an optical illusion, to be fair - the cameras were facing the side of the stands that were exposed to the 37°C Queensland sun, so virtually the entire crowd were wisely staying out of sight in the shade.

However, it didn't make up for the fact that the Tens was unfortunately a bit boring. Billed as the best of Super Rugby over one weekend, the squads turned out to be massively under-strength and had clearly put no effort into preparing for the tournament. This didn't do Duco's ailing credibility any good, which hasn't been helped in recent times by the farcical nature of their promotion of Joseph Parker and very public split of founding partners David Higgins and Dean Lonergan.

Another factor in the potential revival is that while the All Black Sevens have been playing like garbage, the same can't be said of their female counterparts.

The Black Ferns Sevens have been in fantastic form, winning their last tournament in Japan with a thrilling last play try.

New Zealand Black Ferns Sevens team win Round 4 of the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series in Kitakyushu, Japan. 22-23 April 2017.

The Black Ferns Sevens team celebrate their win in Kitakyushu. Photo: PHOTOSPORT / KLC Fotos / www.worldrugby.org

World Rugby has been making serious moves to promote the women's game of late, which will only get more air time with the upcoming Women's World Cup later this year. The last edition provided a bevy of highlights, and the prospect of having the athletes of the Black Ferns Sevens team on show at the new Hamilton event in a concurrent women's tournament should really be pretty high on the organisers' wish list.

So, with the arch-rival events seemingly out of the way and the prospect of at least one national team that will be a favourite for the title, it seems like the rebirth of the Sevens in Hamilton probably could work. Throw in the easy proximity to Auckland and the fact that Waikato Stadium is a great park to watch footy in, and there are more ticks in the positive column than negative.

Just a couple of things though. Make sure you learn from Wellington's mistakes; if not, you'll be doomed to repeat them.

And please don't expect us out-of-towners to drink Waikato Draught.

Jamie Wall grew up in Wellington and enjoyed a stunningly mediocre rugby career in which the single highlight was a seat on the bench for his club's premier side. He's enjoyed far more success spouting his viewpoints on the game, and other topics, to anyone who'll care to listen.

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