New Zealand's Top Club Event: The Taupiri Sevens, 1990

Emil Signes
March 1, 1990
JUNE 30, 2013

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Note of 2013: I wrote this article to accompany my article on Atlantis at the Taupiri Sevens and both - in edited form - were published in the March 26, 1990 Rugby.  This picture accompanied the article. To see the current article as published see Taupiri: New Zealand's World-Class 7s Tournament.

Zinzan & Jimmy @ Taupiri 1990

March 1, 1990
           New Zealand's Top Club Event: The Taupiri Sevens
     To anyone that follows worldwide sevens at least cursorily,
     the tournament that most likely springs to mind is the Hong
     Kong Sevens, the queen of all sevens tournaments.
     Ask about club sevens, and Middlesex and Melrose are two
     names that tend to come rapidly to mind, with other Northern
     hemisphere tournaments such as the Heineken 7s in Amsterdam,
     the Monte Carlo 7s, the Dubai 7s, also on some lips.
     Despite the total domination of Australia, New Zealand, and
     Fiji in sevens over the last 15 years, however, no Southern
     hemisphere club tournament's fame -- if such there is -- has
     transcended its local sphere of influence.
     Thus the person outside of New Zealand that has heard of the
     Taupiri Sevens is rare indeed.
     Nevertheless, since its inception in 1984, the Taupiri Sevens
     has become the universally acknowledged top club 7s'
     tournament in New Zealand.
     Given that New Zealand has added 7s' dominance to its long
     standing pre-eminence in the 15-man game, the story of the
     Taupiri Sevens indicates how innovative thinking can help
     create, build on, and improve a new and successful tradition.
     Taupiri is a tiny community located in the Waikato and
     dominated by dairy farms, about 60 miles south of Auckland
     and 15 miles north of Hamilton.
     Less than a thousand people live within the village of
     Taupiri itself; if we consider the immediately
     adjacent communities the number rises to perhaps a couple
     thousand at most.
     In many ways, Taupiri and its Waikato environs remind me of
     Melrose and the Scottish Borders, and it seems fitting that
     the seeds of a globally significant sevens' tournament are
     being sown there.
                One-Day Cricket
     Cricket has always been a popular sport in New Zealand.  Part
     of its disadvantage, however, has been that it can be
     open-ended and often too time-consuming (a match can last
     days) for the average spectator.
     With the advent of "one-day cricket," however, a popular
     spectator sport has been created.  A day out at a cricket
     match can be not only a good time, but also one that
     guarantees a result.
     It was in response both to the one-day cricket phenomenon and
     the resurgence of seven-man rugby that the Taupiri Rugby Club
     decided to put on a one-day sevens' extravaganza.
             Ken Wilkinson and Gary Catley
     The Taupiri Sevens was the brainchild of two members of the
     Taupiri Rugby Club, Ken Wilkinson and Gary Catley, and it
     remains their task to nurture their creation as it continues
     to flourish and grow.
     1983 was the first year that New Zealand were to enter a
     national side into the Hong Kong Sevens; domestically the
     entire New Zealand sevens' scene consisted of a national
     sevens' weekend incorporating provincial sides and a couple
     of unimportant club sevens' tournaments.
     Catley notes that
         it was Ken's and my idea to get sevens' rugby
         started in New Zealand, and in 1983 we took a
         Taupiri Rugby Club 7s' team to Australia, to the
         Redcliffe Sevens in Brisbane as well
         as to the Fijian West Bank Sevens.
         The Australians and Fijians had been playing sevens
         for a while; they were winning the Hong Kong Sevens
         championship.  New Zealand hadn't been involved at
         that step. 
     Wilkinson adds:
         We got the idea from the one-day cricket situation.
         It was the one-day cricket system which was actually
         getting all the crowds, and we could see a chance of
         the club being able to make some money out of a
         one-day sevens' competition.
         It's entertainment over one day -- all the
         atmosphere, the people, socializing, a band and
         dancing afterwards; good atmosphere and good rugby.
         We approached the New Zealand Rugby Union for their
         support, but they had their provincial sevens'
         tournament, and they weren't particularly
         interested in aiding club sevens' tournaments.
         So we did it all on our own.
     Wilkinson and Catley went to Australia and Fiji to learn what
     they could about sevens' tournaments and how to organize
     them.  What they found were events upon which they thought
     they could improve.
     The result was the first Taupiri Sevens in 1984.
     The tournament never had trouble drawing teams, but
     sponsorship was difficult at the beginning.  Nevertheless New
     Zealand Breweries and Air Pacific did sign on as sponsors
     from the beginning, and the tournament has been a money-maker
     for the club from the outset.
     In 1990, more than 13,000 cans of beer were sold at the
     grounds, and the club netted more than NZ$60,000 (US$35,000)
     on tournament day itself.
     In addition, Continental Airlines replaced Air Pacific as a
     sponsor, and the championship team received a prize of 10
     free round-trip tickets to the Hawaii Harlequins' Sevens in
                 Overseas Competition
     The tournament began, and continues, as one based on Auckland
     and Waikato sides.  Nevertheless, the tournament organizers
     have tried from the beginning to reach out beyond these areas
     to find attractions for the tournament.  Fijian participation
     has been a regular feature of the tournament, and in 1989
     the Hyatt Fiji club, comprising several Fijian national team
     players, actually won the entire tournament.
     In 1989 Taupiri were excited not only about the inclusion of
     an American team, the invitational side Atlantis, but also
     Linwood, from Christchurch, the first South Island side to
     enter the tournament.  Furthermore, Hora Hora, a team from
     the Bay of Islands area, also received special mention
     as the first team from this northernmost part of New Zealand
     to participate.
     The tournament organizers were very pleased with the American
     representation; not only did Atlantis make the quarterfinals,
     but pleased the crowd as well.  Several people noted that
     they felt the Americans' handling was better than that of
     even top New Zealand clubs.
     Atlantis has been invited back in 1991, and the tournament
     organizers hope to add a Japanese team as well.
                  Taupiri Rugby Club
     The Club
     The Taupiri club is a first division club in the Waikato
     league.  Formerly comprised mostly of farmers from the area,
     recently Taupiri has been drawing on the urban population of
     Hamilton to maintain its high standards of rugby.
     Taupiri regularly supplies several players to the Waikato
     provincial side.
     Taupiri is one of the few rugby clubs in New Zealand that can
     boast three adjacent grounds on which to hold their
     tournament, and the tournament reminds one of an American
     sevens' tournament, with three simultaneous games and the
     crowd wandering back and forth to the game that best suits
     its fancy.
     One drawback of the Taupiri fields, however, is that there
     are no permanent stands, and even the temporary bleachers
     erected for the day are far too insignificant to accommodate
     more than a fraction of the crowd. 
     Catley and Wilkinson see this as a situation that will be
     alleviated in the future; I see it as one that must be
     remedied if the tournament wants the number of fans to
     increase beyond the 6 to 8,000 that currently attend.
     One positive situation is the fact that the entire rugby
     grounds area can be sealed off; this means that a practical
     means exists for collecting the NZ$6 per person admission
     charge to the grounds.  In addition, adequate parking is
     One feature of the tournament that helps lend it its unique
     atmosphere and pleases the participants is the ring of 24
     tents around the ground.  Each is for the exclusive use of a
     participating team during the day and provides a frame of
     reference not just for the team itself, but for visits from
     other teams, fans, etc. throughout the day.
     The original tournament format was for 20 clubs to compete
     in 4 brackets of 5 teams each, with the top eight advancing
     to the quarter-finals.
     As a result, it required seven games to win the tournament.
     Seven games over one day, with a nine-man squad, is a brutal
     endurance match, and was part of the reason All-Black wing
     John Kirwan referred to Taupiri as "the toughest sevens
     tournament in the world."
     This format was maintained until 1990 when, as a result of
     pleas from the players, the tournament was changed to 24
     teams, utilizing the increasingly-popular Hong Kong format.
     In this format, three pools of eight teams compete in
     preliminary rounds to determine pool 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place
     teams.  The 1st place teams compete in the Cup championship,
     the 2nd place teams in the Plate championship, and the 3rd
     place teams in the Bowl championship.
          Champions, Prizes
     The Taupiri Sevens rewards outstanding achievement not only
     with trophies but also with good hard cash.  Depending on the
     team's level of achievement, prizes range from a couple
     hundred to a couple thousand dollars; Atlantis in 1990
     received $400 for making it to the Cup semi-finals.
     In 1990 the grand prize winner received 10 free tickets to
     the Hawaii Rugby Sevens' tournament in October.
     The first six finalists, under the old format, were:
     Year   Winner                  Runner-Up
     1984   Ponsonby                Northcote
     1985   Auckland Marist     Hyatt Fiji
     1986   Manurewa               Ponsonby
     1987   Auckland Marist     North Shore
     1988   Auckland Marist     Fraser Tech
     1989   Hyatt Fiji                Auckland Marist
     In 1990, the first year of the new format, Auckland Marist
     were the Cup champions, Ngongtaha (Rotorua) the Plate
     champions, and Linwood (Christchurch) the Bowl champs.
     The tournament selects back and forward MVPs, each of whom
     receives a pair of Laser Boots from the Lydiard Sports
     company.  Winners include
     Year   Forward                 Back
     1984   P. Fatialofa             T. Wright
     1985                                  J. Kirwan
     1986   M. Brooke-Cowden   W. McLean
     1987   Z. Brooke               S. Pierce
     1988   B. Cooper               I. Wood
     1989   P. Lam                    L. Erenavula
     1990   P. Lam                   V. Tuigamala
           Timing: the Key
     Taupiri's preoccupation with timeliness is not unique:
     certainly at Melrose, where the games are scheduled 18
     minutes apart and often find themselves ahead of schedule,
     timeliness is strictly observed, and Hong Kong's scheduled
     gaps between games are always scrupulously observed as well.
     Taupiri, however, has carried this preoccupation to extremes.
     Furthermore, their rules maximize the percentage of the match
     time that the ball is actually in play.
     All games, on all fields, begin at exactly the appointed
     time.  This is not left to the referee to enforce: at the
     sound of one siren, loud enough to be heard by everyone at
     all fields, all three games commence.  Seven minutes later,
     half time begins.  Two minutes later, the second halves
     commence.  And seven minutes later, all three games end at
     the whistle following the siren (or in the case of a penalty
     kick, at the appropriate whistle according to the laws).
     But -- what if . . . , you ask?  Here are some answers.
     o If there is an injury, teams continue to play.  The referee
     may stop play momentarily to allow a player to be carried
     off, but the clock runs.  The idea is, If a player is too
     injured to continue, he gets off and is replaced; otherwise
     he gets up quickly and resumes play. (I.e. no fitness-related
     "injury" times are tolerated.)
     o If there is a score, the conversion must be taken by a drop
     kick.  Taupiri want no time wasting by place kickers.
     (Catley noted that he is still unhappy with time being wasted
     at kickoffs after converted tries, and may require all
     kickoffs to be taken by drop kicks as well.  I left a North
     American kicking tee with him, and suggested that its use
     might be a better solution to the problem.)
     o If there is a tie in a pool game, it stands.
     o If there is a tie in quarterfinals or semi-finals, then
         a) the team with the most tries wins; if both
         teams have the same number of tries,
         b) the team that scored the first try wins.
     Situation (b) would have cost Atlantis a 6-6 quarterfinal
     loss to Waitete in 1990 had Will Brewington not scored
     the game-winning try as the final siren sounded.
     Only if no tries have been scored is extra time played; in
     this case, a scrum is awarded at midfield.  The team to first
     cross the opponents 22 (without kicking) is declared the
     In the finals, more traditional overtime situations apply to
     determine winners.
     Not only Taupiri members, but several players at the ground,
     including forward MVP Pat Lam, commented that the Taupiri
     Sevens are now considered to be the best club sevens in New
     Furthermore, although Taupiri is not an official part of the
     All-Black selection process, national selectors do attend,
     and a good performance at Taupiri could get a player a better
     look in the National Sevens the following week.
     Also, the fact that the National Sevens takes place the
     following week makes it an ideal "tune up" for players
     wanting to shine at that event.
     The Taupiri Sevens is also slowly becoming a tournament of
     choice not only for teams from the northern part of North
     Island, but for teams throughout New Zealand, and organizers
     hope that Linwood's 1990 entry is a foreshadowing of greater
     South Island participation in the future.
     In the English-dominated environment of American rugby I am
     continually forced to defend the importance and significance
     of sevens, so it is with great pleasure that I can report
     that my views are shared by many in the Southern hemisphere,
     particularly New Zealand.
     Sevens is "taking off" in New Zealand; whereas Taupiri was
     probably the first sevens' tournament of any significance in
     New Zealand, within the past five years, they've been
     springing up everywhere.
     Furthermore, sevens has been credited with improving handling
     skills in New Zealand, particularly among the forwards.
     Given New Zealand's credentials within the rugby community, I
     rest my case.
         The Future
     There is no question that Taupiri is not content to sit on
     its laurels, but is planning to raise the level of the
     tournament with each passing year.  When asked how Taupiri
     would respond to challenges to its supremacy from other New
     Zealand venues, however, Catley noted that "Well, if you
     print your ideas before we implement them, other teams may
     get to use them before we do."  I got the feeling, however,
     that Taupiri's promises to continuously upgrade its
     tournament are not idle boasts; certainly its history to date
     is one of achievement.
     In my view, a significant increase in seating for spectators
     is absolutely necessary, and I suspect that this will happen.

     Television coverage is an area that Taupiri is struggling to
     make happen.  The NZRU has granted exclusive rights to in-
     season rugby coverage to [name of NZ station].  The Taupiri
     Sevens, however, falls outside the rugby season, presenting
     both drawbacks and opportunities.  One drawback is that TV
     stations have commitments to broadcast "summer sports" such
     as cricket during the summer months.
     The Taupiri Sevens' independent status, however, also
     provides the organizers with unique opportunities, for
     example to negotiate with [name and explanation of new
     (channel 3?) station], and these are being negotiated.
     In 1990, the Taupiri Sevens was introduced to television
     through a side door, the nightly "Holmes Show."  This show,
     which is seen by more than half of New Zealand's 2.8 million
     TV viewers, is a news' features show along the lines of
     20/20, etc.
     The Holmes TV crew spent virtually the entire day of the
     Taupiri Sevens at the ground filming games and interviewing
     players and officials.  Unfortunately, actual coverage of the
     tournament was scaled back because the discovery that the
     kidnapped American girl Hilary {last name?] was resident in
     New Zealand was made at the same time as the Taupiri Sevens
     were being played.
     Nevertheless, tournament organizers remain confident in the
     future of TV coverage, as well as in its lucrative
     possibilities: "Television coverage," commented Catley, "is a
     virtual license to print money."
     Spawner of Other Tournaments
     Taupiri's importance has actually resulted in other clubs'
     forming their own sevens' tournaments.  To date this hasn't
     resulted in direct confrontation with Taupiri; on the other
     hand, these tournaments generally precede Taupiri, and teams
     are using them as warm-up tournaments for Taupiri.
     These new tournaments, incidentally, should be considered by
     the better American clubs as tournaments in which to test
     their mettle; given Atlantis' success at Taupiri, our top
     clubs should certainly be able to compete at these
     In addition to New Zealand, Taupiri is taking an active role
     in helping the Hawaii Harlequins get their tournament off the
     ground; Hawaii's location, notes Wilkinson, midway between
     New Zealand and the American mainland, could eventually
     result in a greater participation of American sevens' teams
     in New Zealand.
     As other tournaments begin to fill the weeks preceding
     Taupiri, it may well be that some teams will be able to "pre-
     qualify" for the Taupiri Sevens by their performance in these
     tournaments.  Wilkinson noted that in the past, Taupiri
     actually resorted to qualifying tournaments to fill the last
     couple of spots in the tournament.  Although this didn't
     happen in 1990, it is certainly a possibility in the future.
     "National Club Championship?"
     When I explained the US format for selecting an official
     national club sevens' champion, neither Catley nor Wilkinson
     foresaw that as a near-term possibility in New Zealand.  A
     more likely scenario is the development of Taupiri as an
     unofficial national championship tournament (in fact, given
     that the top teams in New Zealand are located in Auckland, it
     probably can already be said to fulfill that role).
     For example, Catley notes that "what you describe is
     happening in a small way now: Linwood was the top team in the
     Christchurch area and we invited them; similarly with Hora
     Hora in the north.  It is likely, then, that this process
     will continue and that we will have several regional
     champions participating at Taupiri."
     National Provincial Sevens?
     Currently the National Sevens tournament is held at
     Palmerston North (near Wellington), the first week in March.
     Taupiri organizers feel that they could do a much better job
     at organizing it, and are entertaining a proposal to do so.
     Holding two tournaments at the same location, two weeks in a
     row, would be taxing, but is something they would look
     forward to.
     International Club Sevens?
     Wilkinson sees the conflicting seasons in the two hemisphere
     as precluding any real interchange between top sevens' clubs
     in the two hemisphere.
     While recognizing this to be the case at present, I will once
     again put on my optimist's hat and comment that I can see the
     day when clubs want to test their sevens' mettle against
     clubs from other parts of the world.
     Certainly Melrose's great achievement -- getting Sydney's
     Randwick club into their 1990 tournament -- is an indicator
     that this is happening even now.
     I don't know how, or if, the logistical issues will ever be
     resolved.  I do know, however, that if they are, Taupiri
     would be one of my choices as the organization to do this

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