Wellington welcomed the stars of the Sevens today with thousands turning out to cheer on the rugby players ahead of the tournament.
Sixteen teams on floats, marching bands and performers paraded down Lambton Quay before a reception at Civic Square this afternoon.
Among the crowd favourites were the Fiji squad, with a big, colourful contingent of supporters welcoming them to the square.
Some, including Brisbane resident Licia Tuni, had travelled to Wellington especially for the Sevens.
She, along with Litty Garnet from Perth and Sydney resident Pasepa Morell, had tickets for both tomorrow and Saturday’s action and said they’d be part of a group of 20 or more Fiji supporters.
Ms Tuni and her friend Susana Kilioni, from Wellington, said New Zealand and South Africa were “always” the danger teams and this year was no different.
He said the parade “rallies momentum” for the two-day tournament, which is in its 16th year.
Mr Maake, originally from Pretoria but now living in Wellington, said the tournament enlivened the city. “Christmas is usually dull in Wellington but come February, you have the Sevens.”
Wellington resident Lesli Manckleton said she’d always wanted to see the parade and it was great to finally see it up close. She would probably not go to Westpac Stadium for the tournament but pledged to watch the action on TV.
The tournament has struggled to sell tickets this year despite cutting general admission prices from $199 to $149.
Another local resident, Heather Beauchamp, said tickets for the tournament were “expensive” but she enjoyed the parade.
“They’ve always been very innovative,” she said while observing the performers with her friend Mary Day.
Meanwhile, New Zealand coach Sir Gordon Tietjens said the parade was a special feature of the tournament.
“Wellington comes out and supports all the teams that are taking part in the tournament. It also gives the tournament a lot more standing. It is a big tournament for us, and for New Zealand — and it’s the only time we play here as a team.”
Sir Gordon said it would be interesting to see how New Zealand’s five new players performed. The debutantes included Rieko Ioane, just 17.
“We come into this with a good reputation so you can imagine the pressure they’ll be under,” he told NZME. “I think the city will come out and support these new younger players.”
Sir Gordon urged members of the public to get tickets and cheer on the “exciting” new players.
“Certainly for a young side, they’ll need all the support they can possibly get,” he said. “We come into this with a good reputation so you can imagine the pressure they’ll be under.”
Sir Gordon said South Africa were certainly favourites but Fiji and Samoa looked strong too.
The coach said with Sevens an Olympic sport at next year’s summer games in Rio de Janeiro, the tournament would be tougher as this year was an Olympic qualifying year.