Photo recall: Riding a wave of support

By Michael Brown

The New Zealand sevens side trucks through the streets of Wellington. Photo / Getty Images
The New Zealand sevens side trucks through the streets of Wellington. Photo / Getty Images

Perched on the back of a ute as they rumbled through the streets of the capital, it dawned on the New Zealand players how big the inaugural Wellington Sevens was going to be.

The first Wellington Sevens was staged in 2000, at the recently-opened Cake Tin. All of the teams took part in a street parade on the eve of the tournament with most interest in a New Zealand team that contained the likes of Jonah Lomu, Mils Muliaina, Eric Rush and Dallas Seymour.

"That's when it probably hit the lads - it definitely hit me - that this is going to be quite big," recalled Karl Te Nana. "The way people came out and supported all the teams was quite amazing."

The tournament was different in those days. The almost-obligatory fancy dress element hadn't emerged and people were there largely to watch the action, not create it.

"It was more of a test-type atmosphere," Te Nana said. "The place was packed and everyone was on the edge of their seats.

It hadn't grown into that party yet. Some people still had their fun but it wasn't the full-on extravaganza it turned into a couple of years later.

"After not winning it the first couple of seasons, people might have thought, 'oh, well, we might as well go along and have a bit of fun while we are there'. But people actually went to watch the footy the first two to three years."

What they saw in 2000 was a New Zealand team beaten 24-14 in the final by a Fijian side at the top of their game, led by sevens genius Waisale Serevi, Vilimoni Delasau and Marika Vunibaka.

"We had little trouble making it through to the final but that's where things came unstuck," Lomu wrote in Jonah: My Story.

"Against our traditional sevens rivals, Fiji, we were outclassed. I didn't perform well at all. Christian Cullen, myself and Caleb Ralph had been included in the New Zealand side pretty much on reputation, whereas most of the other guys had been on the circuit.

"We desperately wanted to win that first tournament. We wanted to show the home supporters what we were capable of and repay them for their support. It was disappointing."

Te Nana has a theory for why they didn't win.

"We were under huge pressure. It wasn't so much the outside influences ... we expect that playing in a black jersey, but internally we put it on ourselves. It was probably a reason why we didn't win it in those first few years.

"In those first couple of years, we got our own changing room away from everyone else and locked ourselves in there and got away from things we normally do on tour. Normally we would go outside to relax or get involved with the crowd, to soak up the atmosphere, but we didn't do it for the first two or three years in Wellington.

"We figured it out after not winning it for the first couple of times that we were going away from our normal formula. Once we finally employed that at home, we got over the hump."

- Herald on Sunday

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