Not perfect, but Hamilton revives NZ sevens

General view as the sun sets during the 2018 New Zealand Sevens at FMG Stadium in Hamilton. Photo: Getty Images
General view as the sun sets during the 2018 New Zealand Sevens at FMG Stadium in Hamilton. Photo: Getty Images

On the evidence of day one, safe to say the sevens is back. Not Wellington heyday back, but certainly back from the brink.

No event is ever perfect from the get-go, and many teething problems reared their head in Hamilton's first dig at hosting.

Punters were forced to wait in long queues first to get into Waikato Stadium for the start of play; then to top up electronic bracelets used to pay for food and drink with no cash or cards accepted inside, and finally for drinks themselves.

Sometimes technology is unnecessary.

This system is also another way to further clip the ticket, with each patron forced to pay an additional $4 before buying anything. Easy extra revenue it would seem.

Despite the weekend selling out, with 24,000 tickets said to be purchased for each of the two days, the stands were never full. That is largely the way with this event here, especially with bars and dance floors stationed out the back of stands.

Like it or not, New Zealand's leg of the sevens has never been solely about the rugby. In truth, for the vast majority, it is a party. Take that away and, as Wellington found out, the event will die.

On the whole, it was great to witness a return to the colourful festivities that once made the capital one of the favourite stops on the circuit.

The crowd and atmosphere built as the day progressed, with everyone from Hugh Hefner to the Teletubbies generally in good spirits after organisers went to mid-strength beers - somewhat prematurely - around 2pm.

Live music – a mental band of course in the 'tron – and a DJ entertained during breaks in play.

As party goers belted out 'buffalo soldier' in the fading sun, the revival of the sevens was near complete.

The final piece of the puzzle came from the largely impressive New Zealand team. Sure they stumbled in last weekend's quarterfinal, and must yet repeat Saturday's efforts in the knockout rounds, but this team appears to have turned a corner under Scotsman Clark Laidlaw.

The ease with which they strolled past France (52-17) and Scotland (24-5) was no fluke. As fatigue set in for their final match they fell off too many tackles but showed character and composure to come from behind and overhaul Argentina 17-12 in the dying stages.

This team is superbly led by captains Scott Curry and Tim Mikkelson. Playmaker Vilimoni Koroi is a magician with ball in hand. And, in his second tournament, 18-year-old prodigy Etene Nanai-Seturo showed with two superb right foot steps and one audacious bump off just what a talent he is.

"He's got some good footwork but what people don't see is the counter ruck at the end which potentially won us the game," Laidlaw said of the youngster's effort against Argentina. "He's working hard and fitting in really well. With everything going on he's doing really well."

New Zealand should take confidence into their quarterfinal, having knocked over England in the last three tournaments.

Fiji and South Africa, the two other unbeaten teams on day one, look the major threats.

"Argentina had a lot of ball and caused us problems and England are the same but we feel we've got some options in attack that can stress them.

"Playing really well on day one doesn't mean anything for day two. Quarterfinals are different as we found out last week. We've had a bit of rhythm in all games and we showed a way to win in the last one so that was encouraging.

"The atmosphere has been amazing. You look at the surface… one of the teams thought it was astro. Everything around the stadiums has been as good as anywhere on the circuit. It's great for our home tournament to be putting on such a show."

Fiji enjoyed huge support – on par with New Zealand. Their 26-15 victory over last week's fatigued- champions Australia, who took some traditional trans-Tasman jeering from locals, had everyone on their feet.

After a difficult period, Gordon Tietjens' Samoa won two of three games, including an upset over the USA which forced the highly-rated Americans to contest the minor placings, and set up a quarterfinal with Fiji.

For punters day two means shaking off hangovers and slipping back into grimy outfits.
Many will be hoping Laidlaw's men can now kick on to put the finishing touch on a seemingly invigorated event.

Hamilton sevens Cup quarterfinals:

Fiji v Samoa (12.36pm)
New Zealand v England (12.58pm)
Kenya v Australia (1.20pm)
South Africa v Scotland (1.42pm)

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