30 Jan 2017

Wellington Sevens slip sliding away

7:25 am on 30 January 2017

It used to be one of the must do events on the Wellington sporting and social calendar.

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While thousands of rugby sevens fans turned out for the annual tournament, at the weekend numbers were again well down from the competition's hey day.

The long-term future of the tournament has been in doubt for some time, so could organisers could halt the once iconic event's ebb into obscurity? Or would this weekend's performance on and off the field could be another nail in the Wellington Sevens coffin.

Rugby reporter Joe Porter went and checked it out.

The Fijian supporters provided plenty of noise, but they were they only ones with the Wellington crowd few and far between.

Wellington Sevens 2017

Photo: Photosport

Former New Zealand now Samoa coach, Sir Gordon Tietjens, didn't mince his words.

"If you talk about Wellington (what the city and event used to look like) it's like a ghost town, it's terrible. The atmosphere is a shocker. I'm not saying that being disrespectful I think it's a well organised tournament, it always has been, but there's just not the people here."

Three-time Reigning champions New Zealand fell well short of defending their title, unceremoniously ousted by Olympic gold medallists Fiji in the quarter-finals.

New Zealand co-coach Scott Waldrom put it bluntly; home advantage doesn't help if none of the home fans show up.

"It definitely didn't feel like hometown support, there were far more Fijian supporters and flags and they're such an awesome support crowd and they get right behind their team and to see them get out and support that team it's great for them and disappointing for us that we didn't have that support.

"Being home in New Zealand and obviously we were out-supported by Fiji in that one (the quater-final), and then to me it felt like the Argentinean crowd was even louder than ours, so it's a little disappointing for the guys that when they do get an opportunity to play in front of a home crowd it's not there," Waldrom said.

Fewer people were at the Cake Tin for the two day competition than last year.

Official figures claimed 10,000 fans went on Saturday, but that was seemed overly generous.

Sunday was even worse, officials said it was about the same size as day one, though it looked considerably less.

The final was won by South Africa, who brushed past Fiji 26-5.

Next week the teams are off to Sydney, to play in front of a sold out stadium full of fans.

So where has the Wellington tournament gone wrong?

Barry the Brownie, Barry McFarlane when he's not dressed up, said the Sevens was a shadow of its former self.

"It's my 15th year going along and it's really poor how it's changed (away from a 'party' theme). The fun police have ruined a lot of it, also changing to a Saturday/Sunday (from Friday/Saturday) makes it not quite the same."

The crowds were sparse and the noise from supporters was often drowned out by the howl of the near gale northerly.

As for those who did make it to the cake tin, reaction was mixed.

"This is our second time after coming about three years ago, there's definitely heaps less people... Round the waterfront, downtown it's dead, things aren't open like they used to be... A lot less drunk people so far so it's been great... the atmopshere isn't great but the Fijian fans are doing their best!"

The general manager of the Wellington Sevens Steve Dunbar admitted attendance was disappointing.

He said tickets were harder than ever to sell.

"There's no doubting it's more difficult to sell tickets than ever before. We are making changes to the tournament and we hope the people of Wellington get behind those changes.

Mr Dunbar said organisers would assess the tournament's future in the next few weeks, but whether it will last past its current 3-year contract, or even to the end of it, seems as uncertain as a Wellington summer.

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