Hamilton Sevens: Mixed feelings for Black Ferns Sevens as last home tournament looms

After the high of winning a Rugby World Cup on home soil, albeit in XVs, the Black Ferns Sevens must now grapple with the disappointment of losing their NZ showpiece, as Hamilton hosts its last - for now - world series tournament. 

World Rugby has "re-imagined" its short-format competition from next year, reducing the number of teams and tournaments, and staging them at iconic destinations around the globe - but our 'City of the Future' has not made the cut.

New Zealand has hosted a tournament since the series began 21 years ago, initially in Wellington, before it was moved to Hamilton in 2018. 

After a four-team exhibition event in 2019, women were officially added to the programme the following year, but after a COVID-19 hiatus, it's time to say goodbye already.

"Gutted, absolutely gutted," admitted Stacey Fluhler, one of the crossover stars of both formats. "There's no better feeling than playing at home.

"Obviously, it's a long way away from some of those other countries, but I know they love coming here and experiencing our culture. We are a bit different in a good way and it's usually good weather.

"It's sad, because it's been here for the last 21 years and our All Blacks brothers have done quite well performing at home.

"It's out of our control, right. We can only do what we do on the field - we can play some good rugby and maybe change minds down the track."

Black Ferns Sevens captain Sarah Hirini - another returning from XVs duty - seems determined not to give up that struggle without a fight.

"I'm pretty gutted we won't be coming back here," she said. "I know the event here in Hamilton three years ago was amazing and everyone enjoyed it, so to know we won't be playing in New Zealand in this jersey... I'm really gutted.

"Hopefully, we can try and get it back at some stage."

Stacey Fluhler scores a try at Hamilton 2020
Stacey Fluhler scores a try at Hamilton 2020. Photo credit: Photosport

Both acknowledge the part sevens has played in attracting young women to rugby in New Zealand, but lament the fact their feats on the world stage will now largely be consigned to overnight time zones with no-one watching at home.

"The boys have been here 21 years and have a massive history, but for the girls, they've only been here twice," reflected coach Cory Sweeney. "Those other 21 years, they've been fighting to get on the stage, now they get there and no longer.

"That's the way it is, and we just live in this moment and make the most of it."

The challenge for NZ Rugby now is to ensure sevens doesn't lose its international presence in New Zealand, whether that's staging Oceania tournaments or invitation events with visiting teams.

"The decision for it to not be in Hamilton is disappointing for all of us, but we're already planning on how we make sure we're staging tournaments in New Zealand, so we can play in front of our public and family," said Sweeney.

'It might not be world series, but this week, we've had a number of international teams come to New Zealand and visit us in Mt Maunganui. That's been amazing, really special, so how to recreate something that will generate that, even though it's not a world series event.

"Last week, we were just in the gym and we had Ireland women, Ireland men, Brazil women, French women all together. It was a really nice feeling to welcome them into our home... those are probably the things we'll miss the most."

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