Wellington - The Wellington leg of the World Sevens Series
kicks off on Saturday with poor crowds again dominating the build-up to the
The sevens was once the hottest ticket in the New Zealand
capital and tickets for both days at the 35 000-capacity Westpac Stadium sold
out within minutes.
But the party atmosphere that used to attract tens of
thousands of fans in fancy dress has dissipated and organisers expect only 15
000 a day this year.
Martin Snedden, the sports administrator in charge when New
Zealand hosted the 2011 Rugby World Cup, said it was time for a change of venue
after 18 years in Wellington.
"History will judge the Wellington Sevens down the
track as being an amazing success story, but what's really apparent now is that
it's probably run its course," Snedden told Fairfax New Zealand this week.
"That's not a negative comment. That's really a
reflection of the fact that an event has a life cycle... and this one seems to
have reached the end."
The tournament gained a reputation for drunken revelry
during its heyday, with police and the local council demanding an end to the
But it has struggled to reinvent itself as a family-friendly
event, despite lowering ticket prices and offering more off-field
There has also been competition in recent years from the
Auckland Nines rugby league competition and critics say there is a perception
the Wellington Sevens feels tired.
What is undeniable is that fans are staying away in droves.
The once packed-out stadium attracted only 18 000 a day in 2015, falling to
12 000 a day last year.
Organisers may struggle to reach their 15 000-a-day goal
this year as gale-force winds and heavy rains have lashed Wellington for most
of the week, killing any summertime buzz in the city.
While the sevens is contracted to remain in the capital
until 2019, Snedden said World Rugby and New Zealand Rugby had some tough
decisions to consider.
"Is it best to keep trying to re-energise it? Or is it
'maybe we're flogging a dead horse?' That's a judgment call they've got to
On the field, reigning Olympics and World Sevens Series
champions Fiji (32) will seek to close the gap on South Africa (41) and England
(39), who have a win apiece in the two opening rounds.
But local interest will be focused on the Pool C grudge
match between New Zealand and Gordon Tietjens' Samoa.
Tietjens coached New Zealand for 22 years before announcing
his departure in the wake of last year's failure at the Rio Olympics, and then
accepted a role with the Pacific islanders.
However, he was still officially contracted to NZR, which
made him sit out the opening rounds, making Wellington his first tournament in
charge of Samoa.
Tietjens, who has described his treatment as
"hurtful", said his former charges would be fired up.
"(They) won it the last three years in a row in
Wellington and they'll be motivated to do it again," he said.
"They would have been disappointed in their first two
tournaments and they'll look to redeem themselves."
The Wellington event is also likely to mark the debut of
English cricket legend Ian Botham's grandson James, who has been named in the
James, or Jimbo to his granddad, was born in Cardiff and has
represented Wales at under-18 level, playing as a flank.