Sevens fans in the spotlight

Last updated 10:08 31/01/2013
WGN Sevens 4
REBECCA THOMSON

Tongan ninjas made the crowd smile.

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The Wellingtonian

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OPINION: Fingers crossed that the Wellington Sevens is a brilliant success over the next few days.

But that is no sure thing.

There's no doubt that the two-day tournament has become one of the great annual sports events in New Zealand.

It is phenomenal how the fancy dress element of the event has been so widely embraced. Many people spend months planning and making their sevens costumes.

Wellingtonians still smile on sevens days when they see six licorice all-sorts, 10 George Bushes or Fred and Wilma Flintstone walking along Lambton Quay towards the stadium.

The parade of teams on the Thursday always draws large crowds.

The way Wellington has embraced the sevens since the first tournament, in 2000, has been phenomenal.

There was a suggestion a couple of years ago that the event might go to another city - Auckland and Dunedin were mentioned as possibilities - but it is difficult to imagine the New Zealand Rugby Union taking it away from Wellington.

The compactness of Wellington, the fact that the stadium is so near the town and the history of the event make it a natural fit for the capital.

However, it does not pay to be too smug.

Rugby broadcaster Keith Quinn surprised some people last year when he spoke of the unsavoury incidents that arise every year at the sevens because of people drinking too much alcohol, and said they were spoiling the event's reputation.

Some people scoffed at him but a closer look indicates he was making a good point.

The city council has taken notice and water will be provided free along the waterfront.

In the hot weather Wellington is experiencing, there is certainly the potential for some alcohol-related incidents at the stadium and in the city afterwards.

For several years Wellington liked to think it hosted the best sevens tournament on the world circuit and possibly the biggest sevens party.

That is not the case any more.

Hong Kong is the sevens king. That tournament lasts three days (unlike the two-day Wellington event) and attracts 40,000 a day. Dubai can pull in 50,000 in a day and the fast- improving Las Vegas Sevens, which follows the Wellington event, attracts 70,000 spectators over three days. At Twickenham, organisers are expecting crowds of 50,000 a day.

These figures dwarf Wellington, which has a stadium capacity of 35,000.

Quite apart from the outfits, the drinking and the general joyful spirit, there is the small matter of the rugby.

Fiji won the first Wellington Sevens, beating New Zealand 24-14 in the final. But since then New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens' team has won six times. Last year they beat Fiji 24-7 in the final.

The tournament sometimes unearths a rugby star. Victor Vito, playing on the wing, was sensational in 2008 and announced himself as a world star, as did Ardie Savea last year.

For most attending the sevens this year, the rugby - especially matches not involving New Zealand - will be of only secondary interest.

The atmosphere will be the major attraction.

Let's hope Wellingtonians enjoy the party but temper their enthusiasm just enough so that everyone else can enjoy the show, too.

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- The Wellingtonian

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