Sevens: Rain or shine, it's been a memorable tournament

A Mexican wave goes around the crowd during the 2009 final. Photos by Craig Baxter and Tracey...
A Mexican wave goes around the crowd during the 2009 final. Photos by Craig Baxter and Tracey Roxburgh.
Otago's Karne Hesketh heads for a try against Wellington in the second semifinal in  2006.
Otago's Karne Hesketh heads for a try against Wellington in the second semifinal in 2006.
Jonah Lomu in 2005.
Jonah Lomu in 2005.
North Otago's Grant Johnston heads for the tryline in 2004 as Wellington's Joe Wright tries to...
North Otago's Grant Johnston heads for the tryline in 2004 as Wellington's Joe Wright tries to stop him.
Otago prepares for its quarterfinal match against Bay of Plenty  in 2006.
Otago prepares for its quarterfinal match against Bay of Plenty in 2006.
Otago's Andrew Tuaine is tackled by Horowhenua-Kapiti's Danny Feehan in 2005.
Otago's Andrew Tuaine is tackled by Horowhenua-Kapiti's Danny Feehan in 2005.

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 event.

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 him?

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 bowl semifinal.

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 weekend.

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.- Meikle.

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 field.

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 the bowl.

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 highlight.- Hepburn.

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 the tournament.

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.

Add a Comment



See more great gift ideas !   For Her  |  For Him  |  For Families  |  For Kids  |