3 Feb 2018

What the Hamilton Sevens needs to succeed, on and off field

6:27 am on 3 February 2018

Opinion - The rebirth of the Sevens takes place in Hamilton this Saturday and Sunday. But will it be a success? Well, there's a few things that need to happen.

Crowds seen in 2012 and then in 2017.

Crowds at the Wellington Sevens tournament in 2012 and then in 2017. Photo: Photosport

The post mortem of the Wellington version of the tournament's demise has come up with some obvious flaws, and it's highly likely the organisers learned some lessons from that. But the key factors are something they can't even really control.

The first one being a tournament win for the All Blacks Sevens, which will be the biggest tick in the positive column. It'll keep people coming back and add some much needed impetus to the often-maligned national Sevens programme.

Make no mistake - when New Zealand played in the Wellington heyday people would watch.

They may have been three sheets to the wind, but once the team's signature 'Back In Black' run on track hit, the concourse around Westpac Stadium would empty and eyes would be on the field. The advantage of it being Saturday night was that most of the crowd was too drunk to care about it if New Zealand lost.

Which, for New Zealanders, is quite a big achievement. However, Wellington had the advantage of being held on a Friday and Saturday for much of its lifespan. So by the time the knockout games happened, it was still the better option to spend the rest of the Saturday partying.

Fiji, Samoa and Papua New Guinea are among 16 teams vying for the inaugural Hamilton Sevens title.

Fiji, Samoa and Papua New Guinea are among 16 teams vying for the inaugural Hamilton Sevens title. Photo: Mike Lee - KLC fotos for World Rugby

Will that be the case on a Sunday in Hamilton, with a lot of patrons having to go to work on Monday? Or will they stick around to potentially watch Argentina play England in the cup final?

It's not without precedent. The mass exodus of fans after the Warriors invariably got knocked out of the Auckland Nines was one the key reasons why that tournament will be played in Australia from now on.

The most overlooked factor in Wellington's sudden drop in popularity was the weather. It rained for three tournaments in a row, from 2011 to 2013 - this had a massive effect, in my opinion anyway, on people coming back.

We've just had the brunt of an untimely storm hit the whole country, if that sort of downpour had hit Hamilton on the weekend then the entire tournament would've been completely ruined. The forecast is looking OK for the Saturday and Sunday, but it is worth remembering that while sober New Zealanders care about winning, they are still literally fairweather fans.

But let's just presume the sell-out crowd doesn't get rained on, and a decent party ensues at Waikato Stadium. The other factor is that they have to behave themselves. The Wellington Sevens was a Bacchanal of the highest order, but it still was subjected to a level of media scrutiny like no other on the Monday morning when it came time to clean up the vomit and broken glass.

Of course, no one really cared because they knew it'd be back next year just the same as ever - until it wasn't.

Hamilton doesn't have that luxury, if something bad goes down in the crowd it could potentially be a lethal blow to the tournament getting off the ground. What this needs, desperately, is to be a completely new event where anyone can go and have a good time - not just giving the impression that it's 20 and 30-somethings intent on drinking for 48 hours straight.

So far, it looks like they've made the right moves: segregating the party area and the families into different parts of the ground.

Rumours out of World Rugby claim that the powers-that-be were all ready to shift the NZ leg of the Sevens Series to Fiji, something that will definitely be on the cards when the tender for hosting rights comes up in 2020. Until then, if New Zealanders want to keep a Sevens tournament in our backyard, the equation is simple: turn up, behave yourselves and perform on the field.

Easier said than done.

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