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Taupiri: The Southern Hemisphere Responds

There is no question of Hong Kong's stature as the greatest international sevens' tournament in the world, and certainly the popularity of Middlesex and the tradition of Melrose rank them right at the top of club sevens' events.

Despite the total domination of Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji in international 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 20 miles north of Hamilton.

Less than 500 people live within the village of Taupiri itself; if we consider the immediately adjacent farming communities, the number rises to perhaps 2000 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 sevens' team incorporated with a 15-man team, to Australia to the Redcliffe Sevens in Brisbane as well as to the Fijian Westpac Bank Sevens in Suva.

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, on February 26, 1984.


The tournament never had trouble drawing teams, but obtaining sponsorship was difficult at the start. 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, Continental Airlines replaced Air Pacific as a sponsor, and the championship team -- Auckland Marist -- received a prize of 10 free round-trip tickets to the Hawaii Harlequins' Sevens being played in conjunction with a 15-man tournament in October.

In addition, more than 13,000 cans of beer were sold at the grounds, along with a variety of food. As with the Melrose Sevens in Scotland, the Taupiri Sevens goes a long way to keeping the host club in business for the year.

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 1990 Taupiri were excited about the inclusion not only 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 North Auckland also receive special mention as the first team from the northern 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 many top New Zealand clubs.

The tournament organizers hope to continue to increase the international flavor -- and the attraction -- of the event by adding teams from other nations in the near future.

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, and its All-Blacks include Has Catley, Warren Gatland and Steve Gordon.


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.

As of 1990, however, despite drawing 6-8,000 people, Taupiri had no permanent stands, and the temporary stands they had were not nearly sufficient to accomodate more than a fraction of the crowd. Taupiri plan to significantly increase the seating capacity in the near future.

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 available.

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 sevens' captain Zinzan Brooke reckoned the Taupiri Sevens to be the hardest sevens' event he'd ever played in.

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 and producing Cup, Plate, and Bowl champions.

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 seven finalists 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

1990 Auckland Marist Ponsonby

In 1990, the first year of the new format, Ngongtaha (Rotorua) won the Plate, and Linwood (Christchurch) the Bowl.


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 Peter Fatialofa Terry Wright

1985 John Kirwan

1986 Mark Brooke-Cowden Warren McLean

1987 Zinzan Brooke Scott Pierce

1988 Brent Cooper Ian Wood

1989 Pat Lam Luke Erenavula

1990 Pat Lam Va'aiga Tuigamala

Keep the Game Moving

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.

In the finals, more traditional overtime situations apply to determine winners.


Thankfully, Taupiri maintains the world-wide tradition of the rugby party, and the after-match festivities include a band and dancing under a large tent at the grounds; the proverbial good time is had by all.

As might be expected, the celebrating, for some, begins before the tournament ends. Zinzan Brooke notes the ambivalent feeling of all winning sevens' players at these events: "We get a lot of support from the club down in Taupiri, although it isn't easy watching them downing beers in the tent while you're out on the field slaving away."



Most New Zealand players and rugby observers seem to agree that the Taupiri Sevens are the best club sevens in New Zealand.

Furthermore, although Taupiri is not an official part of the All-Black selection process, national selectors do attend, and a good performance at Taupiri may 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.

Taupiri is working hard to become a tournament not just of Auckland and the Waikato, but truly representative of all New Zealand. Organizers hope that Linwood's 1990 entry is a foreshadowing of greater South Island participation in the future.


Sevens is "taking off" in New Zealand; whereas Taupiri was probably the first sevens' tournament of any significance in New Zealand, their number has increased dramatically since Taupiri's 1984 debut.

Furthermore, sevens has been credited, by no less a person than former All-Black coach Bryce Rope, with improving handling skills in New Zealand, particularly among the forwards.

The Future

Taupiri is continually looking for ways to improve the quality and attractiveness of its tournament.

One possible change is a modification of the grounds to provide more seating for spectators.

Another is the aggressive pursual of television rights. Whereas the NZRU has granted exclusive rights to rugby during the season to Television New Zealand, the Taupiri Sevens falls outside of the rugby season, and Taupiri is negotiating on its own to try to provide TV coverage for its tournament.

Although it has had to struggle to break through the stranglehold that summer sports like cricket have on the TV schedule, Taupiri finally made a breakthrough in 1990 when highlights of the tournament were used as part of a TV special.

Tournament organizers remain confident in the future of TV coverage, as well as in its lucrative possibilities.

Spawner of Other Tournaments

Taupiri's success has been the inspiration for other clubs to form their own sevens' tournaments. To date this hasn't resulted in direct confrontation with Taupiri; on the contrary, these tournaments generally precede Taupiri, and teams are using them as warm-up tournaments for Taupiri.

Taupiri is also 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.


Given the fact that far more teams would like to participate in the Taupiri Sevens than is possible, Taupiri may well have to use some earlier February tournaments as qualifiers for some teams wishing to enter Taupiri.

"National Club Championship?"

The establishment of a formal national club sevens' championship certainly does not seem as though it will happen in New Zealand within the foreseeable future.

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, and that the Auckland clubs participate at Taupiri, it probably can already be said to fulfill that role).

After I had described the system for determining a sevens' club champion in the United States, Catley noted that a similar progression [from regional champion to national champion] "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 submitting 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 Championship?

Wilkinson sees the conflicting seasons in the two hemisphere as precluding any real interchange between top sevens' clubs in the Northern and Southern hemispheres.

Perhaps, but it seems that the desire is there. Furthermore, Melrose's great achievement -- getting Sydney's Randwick club into their 1990 tournament -- is an indicator that some of the problems may be surmountable.

If the logistical issues involved in a meaningful international club sevens' championship are ever be resolved, moreover, it will require an innovative and imaginative group of people, such as those that run the Taupiri Sevens, to do it. As an optimist, I look forward to the day.