This weekend is the 10th - and, sadly, last - national
sevens tournament in Queenstown. Steve Hepburn and Hayden
Meikle look back over a decade of memories from the
The story: The national sevens was basically a forgotten
weekend on the New Zealand rugby calendar. The tournament
plugged away in obscurity in Palmerston North, and had lost
its major sponsor. It received a shot of energy when the
Otago Rugby Football Union, through the Arrowtown and
Wakatipu clubs, submitted a tender to host.
The final: North Harbour beat Otago 48-7. Harbour was
inspired by a young and super-quick Rudi Wulf, with Karl Te
Nana and Matua Parkinson (the master cheater) backing him up.
Otago's performance: Made the final, so very good.
Otago halfback Alvin Lau, who played for Wakatipu, scored a
sweet try in the semifinal to beat Wellington. Otago had Neil
Brew and Luke Herden, while Tim Boys was all over the field.
Another player was Scotsman Guy Hills. Whatever happened to
North Otago's performance: Held Waikato to a 19-19
draw, and was up 19-5 against Wellington before losing 31-19.
Beat Manawatu 26-21 before losing to Northland (26-12) in the
Other bits and bobs: No corporate tents, no big
fences, free entry - this was a sports event from the old
school. A nice tradition started of teams doing a lap of
honour once their tournament ended. Southland's likely lads
got in a spot of bother after some boozy hijinks.- Hepburn.
The story: More than 3500 fans turned up on the opening
day, stunning organisers. The Sevens With Altitude group,
which organised the tournament, was warmly praised by the
NZRU. Marlborough was a late withdrawal, so the Otago-based
Sassenachs cobbled together a team.
The final: Auckland, coached by Eric Rush for the
first time, won a first national title since 1991, beating
Northland 42-14. Amasio Valance and Orene Ai'i dominated the
Otago's performance: Lost to Taranaki and Northland,
but thumped Southland 33-5 and beat Canterbury 29-19 in the
bowl final. Boys and Herden played well, as did a dreadlocked
blond bloke called Adam Thomson.
North Otago's performance: Three straight losses in
the pool of death. Beaten 45-24 by Manawatu in the shield
final. Would not appear again till 2011.
Other bits and bobs: Jonah Lomu was the special guest.
Temperatures climbed into the 30s on the Saturday. There was
a minute's silence for victims of the tsunami in Asia.-
The story: Another record-breaking crowd (5000) on
opening day. Pub Charity on board as naming sponsor.
The final: Auckland went back-to-back, smashing
Wellington 43-12. The win was dedicated to Rush, left at home
to recover from a blood clot. Former Highlander To'o Vaega
was the stand-in coach of a team led by Mana Ashford, David
Smith and the exciting Gary Saifoloi.
Otago's performance: Crushed pre-tournament favourite
Bay of Plenty 31-7 in a quarterfinal, before slipping to a
26-14 semifinal loss to Wellington. Stars were loose forwards
Ed Cocker and Alando Soakai, backed up by Jone Puamau.
Other bits and bobs :Recently retired All Black
captain Tana Umaga was the special guest. Burdon of the
Southland Times and I became obsessed (in a good way) with a
massive, bearded Fijian playing for Manawatu.- Meikle.
The story: A bit of rain and defence-oriented tactics
made the tournament something of a damp squib, compared with
the previous three years.
The final: A threepeat for Auckland, which thumped
Canterbury 36-19. Rush was on hand this time as Lachie Munro
and Kyle Nu'uali'itia called the shots.
Otago's performance: Thrashed 43-0 by Taranaki on the
opening day, and dropped out of the top eight. Lost to
Wellington in the bowl final. An exciting youngster called
Ben Smith was the best player.
Otago Country's performance: Yes, the Country boys
bravely filled a gap. Found the going predictably tough with
five straight losses.
Other bits and bobs: Northland butchered South
Canterbury 71-5 in what must have been close to a record.
Manawatu was a surprise semifinalist. And, in possibly the
greatest moment in the history of the tournament, organisers
provided the media with free steak sandwiches.- Meikle.
The story: Rising costs forced organisers to introduce a
$5 admission charge. And a nasty illness kept rugby writer
Hayden Meikle in Dunedin, leaving Tracey Roxburgh to step
into the breach. Adrenaline junkie Chuck Berry started the
tournament in style with a skydive from a helicopter on to
The final: Four straight wins for Auckland. Led by
Ashford, Patrick Flavell and Mikaele Pesamino, the
Aucklanders beat in-form neighbour Counties-Manukau 24-15.
Otago's performance: Completed one of the great
comebacks by beating Canterbury 19-17, after trailing 17-0,
in the quarterfinal. Then lost to Counties in the semifinal.
Ben Smith, again, and Karne Hesketh played well.
Other bits and bobs: Christian Cullen was the special
guest. A minute's silence was held in memory of the great Sir
Edmund Hillary.- Meikle.
The story: All Black halfback Piri Weepu played for
Wellington as he wanted to get in condition. The game was a
bit too fast for him. Big crowds again - 5000 each day.
The final: North Harbour beat Counties-Manukau 29-26.
Harbour's best player was the lightning-quick Luke Hamilton.
Otago's performance: Average, not helped by Paul Grant
missing first day with a virus. Came back the next day to win
Otago Country's performance: Made up the numbers again
and stunned Northland on the second day. Star player was cult
hero Aidan Winter.
Other bits and bobs: Counties coach Joeli Vidiri
brought down the wrong medication and a call went out over
the loudspeaker for someone to help with bringing some up
from Invercargill. A streaking, cartwheeling woman was also a
The story: The rainy tournament. Early on the Sunday, the
heavens opened and it teemed down for a fair while. Fans
could see the rain coming straight at them from the top of
the gondolas. Everyone left to go and watch at the pub and
only the very hardy were left.
The final: An absolute thriller. Waikato beat Bay of
Plenty 19-14, with Tim Mikkelson running 90m to score the
winning try in the final minute.
Otago's performance: Opened with a win over Auckland
and topped the pool, but slumped to two losses the following
day. Grant and Hesketh again to the fore.
Other bits and bobs: Sunday might have been a washout
but Saturday featured another massive 5000-plus crowd. A few
All Blacks even turned up to play dodgeball.- Hepburn.
The story: Big crowd, plenty of sun, business as usual.
The final: Auckland, coached by Wayne Pivac, regained
top status after beating surprise package Taranaki 36-26.
Bryce Heem, Tom Iosefo and Malakai Fetitoa dominated for
Auckland. Beauden Barrett led Taranaki.
Otago's performance: Tipped to struggle but at least
made the top eight. Lost to Auckland in quarterfinal.
Marshall Suckling and Buxton Popoali'i in good form.
North Otago's performance: Back in the tournament for
the first time in six years, and drawn in same pool as Otago.
Lost all five games. Billy Guyton the star.
Other bits and bobs: Locals were sorely disappointed
not to see Southland at the tournament. The union withdrew
its team due to financial difficulties.- Meikle.
The story: Increasing costs again, so the price of
admittance doubled to $10. But the crowds were still good.
The final: Auckland, stunned by Manawatu on the
Saturday, scraped in after beating Waikato in a golden-point
semifinal. The Pivac-coached side then pipped Otago 36-24.
Otago's performance: Fantastic - many argued Otago was
actually the best team at the tournament. Lost to Taranaki in
pool play but smashed Manawatu and (delightfully) Canterbury
to reach the final. Grant and Joe Hill were good but the
absolute stars were Brad Weber and Popoali'i, named player of
Other bits and bobs: Nothing but sad news in the
months following the tournament. The ORFU financial crisis
revealed Otago could not even afford the fee to play in its
own tournament. Long-time organiser Richie Anderson admitted
defrauding the tournament of $64,000. And then, in the final
blow, the NZRU announced the 2013 tournament would be the
last in Queenstown. Rotorua is the new host.- Meikle.