Queenstown has been a celebration of rugby sevens for past decade

Queenstown has been a celebration of rugby sevens for past decade

The national sevens tournament in Queenstown tomorrow, being staged there for the last time, has been a celebration of the abbreviated form of the game during the past decade. The weather has been near perfect most years. Few of the spectators have made complete idiots of themselves, although some have come close. The standard of play has improved at each outing and there have been some players who have gone on to become genuine stars, not just of sevens, but with the All Blacks -Victor Vito and Beauden Barrett to name a couple.

The national sevens tournament in Queenstown tomorrow, being staged there for the last time, has been a celebration of the abbreviated form of the game during the past decade.

The weather has been near perfect most years. Few of the spectators have made complete idiots of themselves, although some have come close. 

The standard of play has improved at each outing and there have been some players who have gone on to become genuine stars, not just of sevens, but with the All Blacks -Victor Vito and Beauden Barrett to name a couple.

I've covered more national sevens tournaments in Queenstown than any other reporter, sweltering despite the comfortable confines of the Wakatipu rugby clubrooms with one eye on the rugby, half an eye on the food being served in the sponsors setup next door, and the rest of my attention on the resort's stunning scenery.

For the past 10 years that sevens tournament has been a highlight of my rugby season and I would often think back to it during the middle of winter while covering a club game in Antarctic conditions at Les George Oval or when driving back from a Highlanders game in Dunedin in the dead of night.

For all the fun and frivolity, the tournament hasn't been without controversy.

Most unfortunately, there was Richard Anderson's conviction for defrauding the Sevens with Altitude organising committee.

And there was some ill-advised partying by members of the Southland team at the inaugural tournament in 2004.

Some of the players arrived the next day in less-than-ideal states, prompting an opposition player to comment that he had almost passed out at the bottom of a ruck from the alcohol fumes.

But perhaps the most awkward moment of the past 10 years was during what I think might have been that first tournament when my nemesis - the Dr Evil to my Austin Powers - from the Otago Daily Times discovered the chocolate bar he had squirrelled away in the chiller behind the bar had been misappropriated.

I wouldn't describe what came next as a tantrum exactly, but it certainly wasn't pretty.

I understand the perpetrator (not me), who had made an innocent mistake, did come forward some time later and the matter ended with all parties happy enough - although the reporter in question never returned.

As much as it pains me to say it, Otago have often been the surprise package in Queenstown, usually turning up well coached and ready to play off the support of the home crowd.

The Southland team has had its moments, but the commitment of players like Daniel Townson and Bryan Milne hasn't been matched by Rugby Southland.

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In the past, budgets haven't stretched to help fund preparation for a team that was only really important for one weekend in a year.

Now that the almost-unholy rush to what we hope will be a gold medal in Rio has begun, sevens has rocketed up the list of priorities of the NZRU, and its member unions.

For all that, Milne, Kendrick Lynn and Willie Rickards have managed to play their way into Gordon Tietjens' reckoning during the past decade.

With a bit of luck a few others - Tane Puki, Dion Bates, Tim Boys, James Wilson, Mana Harrison - could have joined them, and Marty McKenzie was unlucky that injury intervened last year.

Puki was an absolute star of the show in 2006 and the fact he didn't win the Joe Tauiwi memorial trophy was dead-set daylight robbery.

The sight of the crowd jumping to its feet to salute his tricky feet is one of my fondest memories from the past 10 years in Queenstown.

At this weekend's final edition I'd love to see a South Island team win - Canterbury and Otago have made the final in Queenstown before - and for Southland to make the top half of the competition for the first time.

It would be a major surprise, however, if Auckland did not continue their dominance in Queenstown and at least make it to the final, while Waikato also look a team to beat.

I'm sad the tournament is moving on to Rotorua and I don't expect to see it back in the resort town. Probably, the event needs a bigger stage now that it's part of the Olympic programme, and unfortunately the events centre isn't really an option because it is a simply awful place to watch rugby.

For me, the national sevens in Queenstown was a special event, thanks entirely to the hard work and inspiration of some committed locals.

Those involved deserve more than quiet acknowledgement, but they'll probably be happy enough to sit back on Sunday night with a cold one and reflect on a job well done.