Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

It's cattle class for SBW and the NZ sevens team

All Blacks Sonny Bill Williams and Liam Messam are among members of the New Zealand sevens team who travelled to San Francisco last night in economy class. Photo / Getty,
All Blacks Sonny Bill Williams and Liam Messam are among members of the New Zealand sevens team who travelled to San Francisco last night in economy class. Photo / Getty,

All Blacks Sonny Bill Williams and Liam Messam are among members of the New Zealand sevens team who travelled to San Francisco last night in economy class - only days out from a crucial tournament and months away from the Rio Olympics at which the team will be expected to win a gold medal.

Fourteen of Gordon Tietjens' squad were scheduled to arrive in Las Vegas this morning for the fifth round of the World Sevens Series, and they did it the hard way.

Williams and Messam, used to flying business class with the All Blacks and Chiefs, tweeted pictures of their boarding passes last night, with loose forward Messam, back with the sevens team after a six-year absence, posting a photo on social media of him crammed into an economy seat alongside teammates Tim Mikkelson, the New Zealand sevens skipper who is 1.92m tall, and Sione Molia.

The squad flew on Air New Zealand flight NZ8 from Auckland to San Francisco, a journey scheduled to take about 12 hours.

The national carrier is a major sponsor of New Zealand Rugby.

Messam made a point of posting several hashtags, including his set number, #43E, adding: #Niceandcosyfor12hours.

We out, Vegas here we come #7slife #43E #struggleisreal #niceandcosyfor12hours #kefs?? @frying_bacon

A photo posted by Liam Messam (@liammessam) on


Williams, who at 1.94m is one of the tallest in the squad, was sitting in economy seat 39F, as evidenced by a photo he posted on his twitter account which is followed by 573,000 people.


Tietjens' team, who won the latest two tournaments in Wellington and Sydney in dramatic style, are currently first equal in the 10-round series alongside Fiji and South Africa. After the Las Vegas tournament, which starts on March 4, the squad will travel to Vancouver for the sixth round which starts on March 12.

The Rio Olympics in August will include sevens rugby for the first time since 1924, and New Zealand players and rugby-supporting public are probably entitled to ask whether send large athletes on long-haul flights in economy is the best way for them to prepare.

New Zealand Rugby's mission statement includes the winning of gold medals by the mens' and womens' teams.

When asked about the travel arrangements, a New Zealand Rugby spokesman said they were looked after by World Rugby, who have yet to respond to Herald inquiries for comment.

There was no response from New Zealand Rugby when asked if the organisation had the potential to upgrade the players' seats, or whether NZR representatives would fly economy class on long-haul flights when attending to official business.

World Rugby made a surplus of about $300 million from the recent World Cup, the most commercially successful tournament since its inception in 1987.

However, it appears the New Zealand players are only the latest sevens players getting what some might describe as a raw deal from World Rugby.

Samoa sevens coach Damian McGrath was given what he described as a "slap on the wrist" for publicly criticising his team's travel schedule following the Wellington tournament in late January.

After the tournament the Samoa players had to be ready at 3am to catch a flight to Sydney, only seven hours after playing their final match at Westpac Stadium. What made matters worse was that on arrival the players weren't able to check in until 2pm local time; meaning many of them slept on the lobby floor for up to six hours before being able to enter their rooms.

McGrath, who posted a picture on social media of the players on the floor, said: "The situation just escalated into a real farce and we had the conversations with the powers that be and they said I shouldn't have spoken publicly about it. I just felt that I had to say something because, it really was terrible how we were treated."

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