Check out the entries for the annual Hawke's Bay Sevens tournament in Waipukurau today and it's an alarming read.

Just 19 teams across all three grades have entered. Five years ago more than 40 teams fronted.

One could be excused for believing the coronavirus might have had an impact such is the decline.

For Havelock North pivot Adam Blake the virus, which has claimed the lives of more than 2000 people, is the reason he is able to play in the 37th edition of the annual Paladin-sponsored event at Central Park.


Blake, 27, had been teaching and playing rugby in China's capital of Beijing for five months before returning home a month ago.

The original plan for Blake, who is teaching science, maths and English and has seven months remaining of a 12-month contract, was to return to China on February 10.

"When the virus broke out I got sent an email telling me not to return until further notice," Blake explained.

In addition to being able to play for Havelock North, as planned before his initial departure to China, at the national club sevens in Porirua earlier this month where they reached the semifinals Blake said today's tournament was one of two "special events" he has been able to participate in the wake of his delayed departure.

The other was the recent 90th birthday for his grandmother and regular sideline supporter Fay Sergent.

"I love playing at the Hawke's Bay Sevens in Waipukurau. In fact I jump at any chance to get to play for the village sevens team," Blake said.

Today's tournament has special significance for the villagers.

"Yes after four consecutive runners-up finishes we want to get the monkey off our backs. Obviously we don't want to put extra pressure on ourselves but we're definitely aware of it and we want to bring the title back to the village," Blake, who played 15s and sevens in China, said.


His team will miss the services of three players who travelled to Porirua, Latrell Ah Kiong, Liam Udy-Johns and Anzelo Tuitavuki, as they have a commitment with the Hawke's Bay Academy squad. Kalin Paewai, who missed the Porirua trip, will be available and Blake, the oldest member of the villagers squad, predicted co-captain and former All Black Sevens rep Trinity Spooner-Neera and the promising Cooper Flanders to play prominent roles.

Blake played in his first Waipukurau tournament as a 16-year-old in the colts grade and has been playing for the senior men's team since he was 19.

"It's awesome to be able to play under Dad [Tom Blake] and Doc [Murdoch Paewai]. They are both former Hawke's Bay Sevens coaches and they have so much experience to pass on. Dad has plenty of connections with school leavers and players love coming to play for Dad and Doc," Blake explained.

The villagers will have a tough start to the day when they meet 2018 champions Hastings Rugby and Sports.

"We know they're never easy and with the likes of Bubba [former Samoa Sevens rep and Magpie Neria Fomai] and Jayden Rihia they will be hard to beat again," Blake said.

"While we know if we finish among the top two in our pool we will reach the semifinals we will make it easier on ourselves if we keep winning. It's just a case of focusing on one game at a time and seeing what happens," Blake added.

The Unison Contracting Services and RDCL-sponsored Havelock North and defending champions Hawke's Bay Fijians are among 11 senior men's teams who will be chasing the Ian Baker Memorial Cup.

Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports, Napier Technical, Hastings Rugby and Sports, Maraenui, Otane, Central, Martinborough, Whanganui's Ngamatapouri and Bay of Plenty's Nga Papaka O Rangataua are the others.

Defending champions in the colts grade, Feilding High School, won't be returning. Four teams, Central, Lindisfarne College, Havelock North and Tamatea will all have the chance to keep the Angus Cup in the Bay.

Defending champions Taradale will miss the services of injured Black Fern, Krysten Cottrell, who is still recovering from surgery, in their quest to retain the Jiangsu Jersey in the four-team women's grade. In her absence fellow Tui Michaela Baker will be a key player for Taradale.

Hastings Rugby and Sports, Otane and Napier Technical should contribute to some close competition in the grade. Otane will again have Hawke's Bay Tui speedster Nicolette Adamson on their roster.

It will be interesting to see if the Central club changes the date for the tournament in future in an attempt to get the tournament back to its glory days numbers wise. While today's date clashes with the Hawke's Bay Academy team's fixture it was chosen to avoid a clash with last weekend's Elton John concert in Napier.

There is talk the tournament may attract more teams if it is played in November as part of the buildup to the national inter-provincial sevens which are played in December. That could prove to be an ideal option as the Napier Old Boys Marist Invitation tournament is the only one in Hawke's Bay before the Hawke's Bay teams for the Central Region tournament are named and that event has only catered for male teams since it began in 2016.

Play will begin at 10am in Waipukurau today. The women's final is scheduled for 4.20pm and the A grade senior men's final for 6.40pm.