HSBC New Zealand Sevens 2023 final event ever – Not likely

While all the talk of the “final event ever” was in all reality true, this cannot be the final HSBC New Zealand Sevens tournament. It seems counter to the actual understanding of the game. Which team’s appeared in the finals? Who sits atop the standings? [New Zealand sits atop all contenders over the men’s and women’s competitions].

Announced in November, a remodelled World Series would include seven festival-style events, in seven iconic global destinations, across seven months. Featuring the best 12 men’s and 12 women’s teams, it is set to kick off in December 2023. New Zealand would no longer host any of those planned events. Even removing the hosting rights of the most dominant nation seems so contrary now. Almost a bizarre rationale, if you consider the achievements of the competing nations.

A bizarre idea; one that must be as clear as mud to World Rugby. So this is why you must think it is “not likely” that a tournament should no longer be located in a major New Zealand city.

On the field, both the finalists at the Hamilton event included New Zealand, with the Black Fern Sevens claiming the women’s trophy. Over in the men’s draw Argentina were too good for the All Blacks Sevens to overhaul, narrowly winning 12-14..

And even if the results were not enough pure-rugby evidence to reinforce what a poor rationale it is to end the long history of events held in Hamilton and Wellington before that, then surely the negative press and poor public relations will feel a weight that Alan Gilpin will have brought up first thing Monday morning.

The concept might have sounded good on paper, with due consideration of the past, the present, and looking towards the future. Yet in the cold light of day, the relationship between the game of sevens and nations like New Zealand, Fiji, and other forerunners, it might not be as critical that financial and engagement benefits are less critical factors that World Rugby must understand first and foremost who wants to see the sport.

HSBC New Zealand Sevens final event ever

Across the two days of the HSBC New Zealand Sevens, the game was naturally at the forefront. The men’s and women’s pool matches playing out in brilliant sunshine. Action-packed, with Los Pumas sevens defeating Fiji as the US Eagles women stopped the all-powerful Aussie 7s. Some upsets, yet for the women certainly, it ended with the favourite four teams involved, and steps towards 2024 Olympic selection was on the line.

It was picture-perfect – a great advertisement for the sport no less. Something every World Rugby executive hopes for. What most followers would believe rightly so. Though today, does this evidence alone not meet 2023 metrics which World Rugby consultants provide? The latter might only be a concept in itself, a theory yet in a way, a topic for conversation.

The valid topic being that when the announcement came, it was such an impersonal one. Involving a lot of unknown factors. It was really out of nowhere – even with the detail within the media release that;

  • a new Series follows a widespread and comprehensive consultation process, involving representatives from participating teams, existing tournament hosts, player welfare representatives, and fans

  • Discussions are ongoing with potential host destinations, following unprecedented hosting interest

  • Confirmed hosts, competition dates and a new brand identity will be announced in the coming months, with the first edition of the remodelled Series to run from December 2023 through June 2024.

That information due in ‘coming months’ will not affect the 2022/23 Sevens Series. The circuit moves on to the HSBC Sydney Sevens this weekend, where the Aussie men and women will work hard to correct their failings away from home soil. It should be another good example of the recognized calendar, even if some of this season’s legs are not confirmed yet in the future.

Sydney may in fact be one of the ‘so called Iconic global destinations’ so it’s future could be secure. Alongside Hong Kong, London, Las Vegas, Dubai, and Paris, the combination of the seven countries is still unclear. So is the timing of a seven-month-long season – one tournament per month? Or a break for the northern summer? It was those unknown factors that made the reporting of the final-ever HSBC New Zealand Sevens event so misinformed.

Should rugby sevens fans worry? NZR reacts to uncertain future

Across multiple interviews prior to, during and after the tournament, players and coaches spoke of their concern that the final-ever reporting of the New Zealand leg was counter to the realities that the hosts should be included in the future calendar. They may have not been so forthright as to demand administrators “do something about it” yet some comments point to dissatisfaction.

All Blacks Sevens captain Sam Dickson explained to Newshub Sport how the side is putting pressure on NZ Rugby to keep the game alive. “It’s up to the NZRU to pull finger, and get some nationals or some local tournaments going so we can keep building our team,” he said. And the unclear future is reflected in the report being classified as ‘world series pulls pin on Hamilton’. A singular term that World Rugby had removed the event, to the disbelief of those involved.

Head coach Clark Laidlaw promoted the fact that; “They know what we need to get sevens here,” he said. “We’ve already started planning behind the scenes to get tournaments here”. And the stakeholders –  who still do not want the event to sidestep New Zealand – will push NZ Rugby to pursue more involvement in the future. NZR’s Chris Lendrum understands that, and stated “we definitely want to see sevens here on our shores,” added Lendrum. “If it’s not through the World Series next year, then we’ll find another way to do that.”

Embed from Getty Images

That attitude is admirable, and if that can be magnified by each other affected nation that has their rights withdrawn, possibly 2023/24 will only be a trial. It might be like the over-expanded Super Rugby competition – over-ambitious, unspecific and unqualified. Obviously, the organization has a plan yet one that is still to be revealed to this point, which does make it sound all so unrealistic.

So was it the last-ever HSBC New Zealand Sevens leg? No, not likely. A year’s absence, maybe two, surely before the decision makers find out that your leading nations hosting participation is too integral to the success of the sport. That missing a few dollars in earnings cannot replace the reason fans return to watch the Sevens Series again and again. It is a familiar product, never the same, with a mix of entertainment and action that only requires an atmosphere. Iconis, sure. But not more so that the leading nation can be bypassed without clear objection and distaste from stakeholders.

And if it is one thing World Rugby are all too aware of, it is that unhappy fans will not buy a lemon when they have been used to a long-served product.


“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images