Last home tournament

Nearly 5000 people converged on Queenstown Recreation Ground for the New Zealand Rugby Sevens tournament in 2010. Photo by Naeem Alvi.
Nearly 5000 people converged on Queenstown Recreation Ground for the New Zealand Rugby Sevens tournament in 2010. Photo by Naeem Alvi.
While some still struggle with New Zealand Rugby's announcement in December that Rotorua has gained New Zealand Sevens hosting rights for 2014 and 2015, Otago Rugby Sevens coach Roy Hawker says the seven-man game is on its way up at an international level.

The tournament has been an annual fixture on Queenstown's calendar since 2003, but Hawker says the shift of the tournament is for the good of the game as more resources are being pulled in to improve the status and player base of sevens rugby.

''The most pleasing thing is there's some resources going into it and with the game going to the Olympics, it is gaining more respect.''

He compared the sevens situation now to that of cricket when twenty/20 was first introduced and hopes it will see the same increase in popularity and crowd numbers cricket has.

''Rugby as a 15-man game can be quite complex in its purest form and quite difficult for outsiders to understand.

''Sevens is a game that brings a crowd and people can come along and enjoy that.''

He said the introduction of women's games to this year's tournament would also boost the game as a spectator sport, but was disappointed for the Otago women's side after it bowed out of the qualifying tournament in the semifinals.

''I think it's going to add to the flavour of the weekend. It's added a whole new dimension and it is great for the sport.''

While Hawker and the Otago team would be sentimental knowing this would be Otago's last home tournament for some time, he said this would also provide the team with some extra motivation to win in front of what is traditionally a loud and excitable crowd.

''We drive three hours over here to what is technically our home grounds and then when you walk out and see all that blue and gold on the bank ... they're a great crowd.''

''We will want to give that home crowd lots to cheer for.''

Hawker said the introduction of sevens to the 2016 Olympics would do wonders for the game internationally but also, at a home level, players would be more inclined to stick with the game rather than using it as a link to the next level.

''A lot of young sports people dream of appearing at an Olympics. As rugby players we have never had that dream.''

Sevens was a pathway for players to gain recognition and get to that next level, he said.

While this was still the case, he said Otago Rugby had been lucky to have talented players train throughout the summer and partake in the tournament this weekend out of ''pure enthusiasm'' to play rugby.

He said the likes of Otago captain Paul Grant should be training with the Highlanders, but were fronting up at grassroots level.

Hawker is confident in his young side, although

only 50% of them are returning from last year's squad.

''Our expectations are to hold on to the ball as much as we can. One main objective is to qualify for day two and get on top of the draw.''

The team was likely to be physical and although it could not match defending champion Auckland's flair, players would show their on field presence through physical contact.

He said after Otago Rugby's financial woes of 2012 it is standing in a good place and the fact the money has not been ready available had

helped bring local talent to the fore.

''It is a big turnaround to the way we've been dealing with it in the past, as before we would get guys down from provinces in the North Island and be passing these guys by.''

''These guys have always existed.''