A respected long-time rugby commentator is surprised and disappointed that Queenstown’s lost the National Sevens hosting rights.
Tony Johnson (right), commenting on the final Queenstown tournament this weekend, says: “I’m really sad that it’s moving on, I really am.”
The New Zealand Rugby Union last month announced Rotorua had won the tender to host the 2014 and 2015 tournaments.
NZRU chief executive Steve Tew stated at the time: “We need greater capacity to cater for future expansion of the tournament both in terms of grounds and spectator facilities.”
However, Johnson counters: “I don’t think it’s outgrown Queenstown at all.”
Johnson – who’s missed only one of Queenstown’s past nine tournaments – recalls attending the final one in its previous venue of Palmerston North in 2002.
“It was just a shocker, really.
“They had it at the rugby institute, it was miles out of town, the wind blew all the tents down and we couldn’t broadcast it properly ’cos our scaffolding got blown over.
“It was at that stage you’re thinking, ‘Hell, has this tournament got a future?’
“Queenstown’s come in and not only rejuvenated it, I think they’ve secured its future. There was that period in between Palmerston North and the decision for the sevens to go into the  Olympics where it could have
Johnson attributes the event’s success in Queenstown to both the venue and the organisers.
“You step out of the ground and you’re in the middle of one of the greatest places in the world. It’s the perfect stage, really, and fantastic for television with all those great shots from Skyline.
“I remember the year I came down with a bunch of players – I think there were about three teams from the top of the North Island – and they got off the plane and their reaction was ‘Wow, look at this, this is amazing’.
“But you can have the best venue in the world but it still has to be well-organised.”
Johnson says the organisers can take a lot of credit for creating such a land-back feel to the event.
“The year they marked Sir Edmund Hillary’s death, the way they did that – there’s been lots of great little touches like that,” Johnson says.