Hamilton Sevens: NZ Rugby turns attention to future tournament options after world series exit

After another successful performance - on and off the field - at the Hamilton Sevens, NZ Rugby must now focus on how to maintain fans' passion for the game without a world series stop on the calendar.

The Black Ferns Sevens and All Blacks Sevens fell centimetres short of completing a double defence of the titles they won in 2020, last time the tournament was held before COVID-19 struck.

While the NZ women swept all before them en route to keeping their crown, defeating USA in the final, the men were pipped by Argentina, when Brady Rush marginally failed to force the ball for a winning try after the siren.

Their runner-up finish was enough to catapult them past South Africa and Samoa to the top of the current world series standings, while the women also leapfrogged Australia for the women's lead.

In the stands, Kiwis turned out in all manner of costumes to show their support of an event that has been part of the social and sporting landscape since the sevens world series began in 2000.

World Rugby's decision to drop New Zealand as a stopover in its "re-imagined" format from next year means administrators here must grapple with how to keep the game alive in its longtime international stronghold.

"I just had a walk around before and it's a fantastic event," NZ Rugby professional rugby and performance general manager Chris Lendrum told Newshub. "People are enjoying themselves, it's safe, it's family friendly, so I couldn't ask for more.

"It's a shame obviously it won't be here again next year."

As part of its revamp, World Rugby will reduce the number of tournaments to seven, staged at iconic locations around the globe, with the number of competing teams also reduced to enhance the qualify of competition.

All Blacks Sevens pay tribute to the fans after their final defeat
All Blacks Sevens pay tribute to the fans after their final defeat. Photo credit: Photosport

"New Zealand has a great history of event delivery, when you think about Lions and World Cups and sevens," said Lendrum. "We really know how to do it well and you can see that on display here this weekend, which makes it all the more a shame that we won't be doing it again next year.

"I think they [World Rugby] know that and they have commercially driven goals for the series - I can understand that. If they can generate more revenue that can be invested back in the teams and participating nations, that's good.

"For us, we definitely want to see sevens rugby here on our shores. If it's not next year through the world series, then we'll find another way to do that."

The NZ players have spoken out against the World Rugby decision, with Black Ferns Sevens star Stacey Waaka-Fluhler admitting they were "absolutely gutted" by the news that broke last month.

"There's no better feeling than playing at home," she said. "Obviously, it's a long way away from some of those other countries, but I know they love coming here and experiencing our culture. 

"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."

Lendrum acknowledges those sentiments, but concedes the battle has been lost - for now.

"Never say never," he told Newshub. "We're going to do some things in the next 12-24 months to make sure sevens keeps its connections with the community - players and fans - and we'll continue to show that we're a great place to host sevens rugby in the future.

"Whilst, in the immediate future, that's not going to be a world series tournament, there's nothing to stop us hosting a tournament in the right window.

"Obviously, the Pacific region is arguably the home of sevens rugby in the world and we've got a lot of great competitive teams we can draw in to participate in a tournament here - that's the next item on the agenda for us."

The Black Ferns and All Blacks Sevens won't have much time to dwell on their Hamilton results, as they prepare for the Sydney stopover next weekend.