Condor Sevens moves to new venue

By Campbell Burnes

The Condor Sevens have grown so much they have had to change the venue.

The iconic major national schools sevens tournament will be held at Auckland's Sacred Heart College for the first time this weekend after three years at Kelston BHS. It has swelled to 96 teams competing in boys' and girls' open and Under 15s competitions over three days.

"The rationale was down to field size," says tournament director Phil Gaze. "We wanted to grow the tournament from 72 to 96 teams. Kelston had three fields, but we needed four and Sacred Heart were really keen to host. Also, we felt it was good to freshen it up. We'd done three years at Kelston and now we're committed to three years at Sacred Heart."

There is also a nice tie-in for Sacred Heart, who won the inaugural Condor Sevens in 1986 with a side that included Craig Innes, and have qualified for the 2016 event.

Sacred Heart hosted the Auckland schools grade finals for several years and their fields have always been of good quality and numerous (with seven in all).

The open boys' and girls' competitions look very, er, open. Among the boys' contenders will be Auckland schools champions Aorere, along with 2015 grand finalists Hamilton BHS, the defending champs, and Hastings BHS, with several players from their outstanding First XV, including the sparky halves pairing of Lincoln McClutchie and Folau Fakatava.

Feilding High School, whose star Vilimoni Koroi was ruled out of last month's NZ Schools programme with injury, will be strong. Koroi made the tournament team in 2014-15, while Sacred Heart's Hoskins Sotutu was in the 2015 team and is one to watch. Hayze Perham, another who was called into the 2016 NZ Barbarians Schools, will anchor the Rotorua BHS challenge, while Christchurch BHS will be a key South Island contender.

League stronghold St Paul's (Auckland) have entered, and qualified a team for the first time. MAGS, after a stellar First XV season, qualified, but opted out after an exhausting schedule and the absence of some key men.

"These days, when you get to the top eight, it's anyone's game," Gaze says.

Hamilton GHS will have their work cut out defending their open girls' title, with threats coming from the likes of Kaipara, whose star player is Rina Paraone, fresh off winning the girls' rugby award at last weekend's College Sport young sportsperson of the year event. The 2015 Hamilton GHS team featured Tenika Willison and Terina Te Tamaki, both of whom have been in the Black Ferns Sevens set-up.

The Under 15 section is increasingly popular.

"The open grades are by qualification, whereas the Under 15s are by invitation or registration. We see that as a real growth area of the underbelly of sevens," says Gaze. "It introduces kids to the game and gives them something to finish the year with. It's also a development tool for First XVs."

That is exemplified by Nikau Drage, in the 2015 Under 15 tournament team, and who went on to be a key player for Massey High's First XV in 2016.

Adding to the attraction of this year's Condors is the fact that a World Schools Sevens pilot event will be held, again at Sacred Heart, in a fortnight, with New Zealand players selected mostly from the cream of those on show at the Condors.

Gaze and his team will also be running that, which will see a heavy Oceania flavour, a total of six boys and four girls teams from New Zealand, Australia, Samoa, Fiji and Cook Islands.

"We're working with NZ Rugby on the development of the next layer of talent," he says. Hooking into contacts around the Pacific region, they have made it happen and scored television coverage.

"It's getting some big momentum and we'd like to grow it to a 16-18 team tournament within that world schools environment," Gaze adds.

SKY TV will be covering most of days two and three of the Condors as they bump up their coverage of this event.

For further information and to keep track of the Condors tournament, which kicks off with the Under 15s on Friday, visit https://www.facebook.com/condorsevens or http://www.condorsevens.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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