Battle of codes: Sevens heaven or divine Nines?

DAVID LONG
Last updated 05:00 02/02/2014
Wellington Sevens
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FANCY DRESS: Fans at the Wellington Sevens have been known to dress up and enjoy a lager or two.

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The debate over whether rugby or league is the better sport is one that's raged for years, without there ever being hope of a definitive conclusion.

Over the next couple of weeks a new version of the discussion will emerge with people taking sides on whether nines or sevens is superior.

The Wellington Sevens is a long established and successful tournament that dates back to 2000. It's become a national institution for those keen on dressing up, knocking back some beverages and watching a bit of sport now and then.

But the Auckland Nines is the new kid on the block, with the inaugural event being held at Eden Park in a couple of weeks' time and while it's almost sold out, it remains to be seen whether it can match - or even surpass - its Wellington rival.

The signs already suggest this will be a successful event and one to continually rival the sevens as the best sporting weekend in New Zealand each summer.

DAVID LONG compares the two events to find out which one comes out on top.

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE

Sevens can be a high action, intense sport with end to end stuff and tries galore. However, it can also be a dull, one-sided blowout between teams that few people in the stands care about.

The skill factor in the sevens can be breathtaking, though, with the quick hands, vision and the pace of some of the Fijian and New Zealand teams of the past springing to mind.

While no-one really knows for definite what nines will look like, it's expected to be more similar to the 13-man game than sevens is to rugby. The two extra players in nines should mean the defences are more structured and it won't be a case of just flinging the ball out wide to find a team-mate in space.

However, there should still be enough open field for exciting play, it's just that teams will need to be a bit smarter in how they attack.

Winner: Unknown

HISTORY

While there doesn't seem to be the mad rush for tickets to the Wellington Sevens that there used to be, it has become an important event in the New Zealand sporting landscape. Players like Eric Rush and Karl Te Nana became more famous for their exploits in sevens than they did in the 15-man game.

But with Nines, there isn't much history. It hasn't been played in years and with some new rules ready to be trundled out, it's anybody's guess how it will go.

Winner: Sevens

SIGNIFICANCE

The Wellington Sevens is part of a successful IRB world series. It is already in the Commonwealth Games and will feature in the Rio Olympics in a couple of years' time. Players are increasingly becoming sevens specialists, can travel the world and earn a handy living from just playing this form of the game.

The nines, however, is little more than a pre-season hit-out before the NRL season begins and while the prize money up for grabs is significant, it's unlikely there will ever be much growth in this variation of league.

Winner: Sevens

DEPTH OF TEAMS

Watching the likes of Spain, Scotland and Portugal at the Wellington Sevens is something only the diehards will be interested in and for most when they're in action it's a good time to queue for the bar.

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Only when countries like New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Fiji and Samoa are playing the action heats up.

With nines, though, all 16 teams should be equally strong and there are strict rules each club has to abide by about the quality of their squads. So whether it's the Sharks, Tigers, Sea Eagles or Warriors playing, it should be a good game.

Winner: Nines

STADIUM

The Cake Tin may be loved by some Wellingtonians, who, incidentally, hate it when it's called the Cake Tin, but the fact remains that it's not a great venue to watch rugby at because the seats are so far away from the action. The decision to also make it a cricket venue was a poor one and something that those in the capital have been lumbered with. While the stadium is situated within walking distance of the Wellington CBD, it's still a fair hike.

Yes, Eden Park is sadly a multi purpose venue too, but spectators are slightly closer to the action. Since the revamp for the Rugby World Cup, the Auckland venue has become a magnificent stadium. There are a few bars nearby and the free trains to the station just outside Eden Park mean it doesn't matter too much that it's in the suburbs.

Winner: Nines

SUPER STAR PLAYERS

While most sports followers in this country should be able to name most of the New Zealand sevens side, there are few players in other teams that people will have heard of. For many, sevens is regarded as a stepping stone to the 15-man game, so generally if a player's really good he'll move on from the sport after a year or two.

The NRL's rule that each nines team should include at least one player from the top five of their playing list and 12 from their 25 ensures that there will be plenty of household names at Eden Park.

Winner: Nines

COSTUMES

For the Wellington Sevens, dressing up in costumes has become as important as what happens on the field - - if not more - and it's sometimes the case that it's more interesting to watch the spectators in the stands.

Aucklanders will have to learn about the dressing up experience and while there will no doubt be plenty of people making attempts at it this year, it's unlikely they'll be as skilled at it as those from the capital. And please, no mankinis Auckland.

Winner: Sevens

OVERALL

Well, our hugely scientific study has it down as a draw. They'll both be great events to be at over the next few weeks and all the more enjoyable for those going along if New Zealand and the Warriors win each of them.

Winner: Draw

- Sunday News

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Related story: Booze ban hovers over sevens

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