For a brief moment, during half-time or in between games you would see a large crowd enjoying themselves at the Wellington Sevens. Fans were in costume, signing along to Bob Marley (GOAT) and even getting their dance on as good vibes filled the Wellington sky, you would have thought that the Wellington Sevens was still the hottest ticket in town.
Then the camera would switch to a wide shot, showing off the glorious yellow seats of the Cake Tin as the crowd numbers dwindled to nothing in the shaded area. A few folk found this misleading, especially as a single photo of the large crowded area could make you think that everything was honkidory; what were people complaining about?
That essentially summed up this year's Wellington Sevens for me as if you looked past the failures that have led to the lack of a sell-out crowd you'd see people dancing, singing, enjoying the rugby entertainment and enjoying a big (small in comparison) party. We always tend to focus on the negative whether it be the shock and horror of a small Wellington Sevens crowd or those being turned away at the door for failing a breath test, what I say though was people having fun.
People having fun and of course, the entertainment of rugby Sevens which is one of the best sports to simply enjoy. Whack Sevens on in the background and a game involving Kenya and Samoa would be going down, or better than that something like Portugal vs Russia, Sevens bridges the gap between the big-dawgs and minnows, which for a sport like rugby is great.
My Sevens love gets a tickle to start every year with the National Sevens and then the Wellington Sevens showcasing the game, the only difference being that in an Olympic year Sevens actually means something to the average joker. After watching the All Blacks Sevens team snatch an epic comeback victory over South Africa it's hard not to be feeling the Sevens' vibe, it's brewing, I can feel that Sevens is going to enjoy its new relationship with the Olympics.
Obviously I'm saying this from atop my kiwi perch and yeah our Sevens team is pretty damn handy. Akira Ioane is clearly the most dangerous player in the team and after watching the elder Ioane bump off nearly every first-up tackler in the ITM Cup, it's borderline impossible to imagine someone tackling him one-on-one. The fact that Akira and Rieko have broken into professional/provincial rugby just as Sevens hits the Olympics is a gift from the rugby gods as these two youngins' will be crucial to a gold medal campaign.
Augustine Pulu looks to have settled into that Sevens play-maker role which suits the halfback perfectly while this tournament was step one of Sonny Bill Williams' Sevens journey. Step one, which gives us a starting point to reference and I invite you to bring some food and drink, I'll provide the guacamole and we can watch the SBW x Sevens journey.
Most importantly, the core of this Sevens team is settled and have been in many situations similar to what they found themselves in against South Africa in the final. Tim Mikkelson, Gillies Kaka, Regan Ware, Sam Dickson, Joe Wheeler and even Kurt Baker played integral roles, perhaps more important roles than their more well known team mates.
Coach Gordon Tietjens' wizardry will be evident throughout 2016 as he juggles those who are eager to get in the mix for a Rio spot and those who are established Sevens players. Just like how it's going to be fun to watch the SBW x Sevens journey, watching one of our greatest coaches ever in perhaps his trickiest hour will be just as interesting.
The Wellington Sevens is followed by the Auckland Nines this weekend and everyone will naturally draw comparisons between the two, maybe poking fun at the Sevens and celebrating the Nines. They are effectively the same events as much as some would lead you to believe otherwise; both have a party atmosphere, both have star players and breakout stars, both provide copious amounts of entertainment and both are adaptations designed for fans. Comparisons exist, but it's dangerous to compare the two in terms of success or crowd numbers.
We are still adjusting to having two such tournaments and within the next few years we will see things level back out. It's hard to expect people to snap up tickets to both events and the Nines is still fresh, plus it's in Auckland which means people in the upper North Island only have to go to Auckland for their fix of sport, positive vibes, alcohol (/drugs) and an entertaining escape from being back at work.
I think I'm just happy that across two long weekends, back to back, we get Sevens and NRL Nines tournaments to enjoy. I mean look at us, we're hosting Sevens and Nines, that's pretty cool and we as kiwi sports fans deserve it. Don't overreact, the Wellington Sevens will be all good and we'll get back to hosting two big ol' parties very well.
If it makes you feel better Mr/Mrs Wellington Sevens, Eden Park was pretty empty yesterday as well.