NZ Rugby defends poor turnout at Sevens

Sevens fans (Gallo Images)
Sevens fans (Gallo Images)

Wellington - New Zealand Rugby (NZR) chief Steve Tew defended the Wellington Sevens on Monday after a disappointing turnout despite big-name players and the sport's inclusion in this year's Rio Olympics.

Once a showcase event on the World Sevens Series and regarded as the New Zealand capital's biggest party, the two-day tournament attracted less than 30 000 fans over the weekend.

In contrast, Australia is on track to have a sell-out 70 000 at Allianz stadium for the Sydney round of the series this coming weekend.

Organisers in the New Zealand capital had hoped a feelgood factor generated by sevens' Olympic debut this year - where the Kiwis are favourites for gold - would revive interest in the short form of rugby union.

But even the presence of cross-code superstar Sonny Bill Williams in a New Zealand shirt failed to draw in the punters and Tew admitted the numbers were disappointing.

"We still haven't got enough people there to be satisfied, but I wouldn't call it a disaster that's for sure," he told radio station NewstalkZB.

Wellington's contract to stage the New Zealand leg of the Sevens runs out this year and there have been suggestions it could move to Auckland, Dunedin or Christchurch.

Fairfax New Zealand reported that NZR would decide by the end of next month whether to remain in Wellington or seek a more enthusiastic host city.

Tew refused to be drawn on possible relocation but confirmed a review would be held.

"We'll sit down with the partners we have at this event - Wellington City, the stadium, World Rugby obviously, police and other agencies and review this very thoroughly," he said.

He added: "We've had a long-standing partnership with Wellington City and been very successful over a long period of time and I think we've got to take that long-term view."

Various theories have been put forward for the event's demise, including competition from the rugby league nines in Auckland and a perception of staleness after 16 years.

Police had also become weary of spectators' alcohol-fuelled antics at Westpac Stadium and Tew said organisers had set out to attract a different demographic.

"We had to... the world's changed and we are now responsible for the behaviour of the people in that stadium," he said.

New Zealand beat South Africa 24-21 in the final of the Wellington Sevens after a last-gasp try from Joe Webber.

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