England's Dan Norton is chased by New Zealand's DJ Forbes with empty seats in the background at the 2017 Wellington Sevens. Photos: AFP

Wellington gets the boot in NZ reshuffle as World Rugby confirms 2018 Hong Kong Sevens dates

A lack of public interest prompts shift after 18 years in the capital as next season’s fixtures are confirmed

The troubled New Zealand round of the World Rugby Sevens Series will be moved from its traditional home in Wellington in an attempt to breath new life into the tournament.

After 18 years of being based in the New Zealand capital, World Rugby announced on Monday the tournament will next year move to the city of Hamilton.

It is the only change to the 10-round global tournament and was welcomed by New Zealand officials who have struggled to maintain public interest in Wellington as a venue.

“It was time to start a new chapter for the tournament in New Zealand,” said Nigel Cass, New Zealand Rugby’s chief strategy officer.

“The inclusion of sevens in the Olympic Games has introduced the sport to a new group of athletes and fans and NZR is committed to developing a strong sevens programme.”

Watch: Seven of the best tries from the last Wellington Sevens

While the sevens was a sell-out at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium in its early years, rivalling the famed Hong Kong Sevens for its festive atmosphere, interest has faded in recent times.

Scotland notch first ever win over New Zealand on way to defending London Sevens title

“The feedback we’d been getting from the public was that the event in Wellington seemed to have lost its allure,” city mayor Justin Lester said.

“Wellingtonians have been voting with their feet in the last few years and we’ve seen the result in dwindling crowd numbers and lower ticket sales.”

The 2018 Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens will take place on April 6-8, retaining the slot on the first weekend of April it has filled for the past two years in a series that finishes two weeks later than this year’s due to the Commonwealth Games in Australia.

South Africa celebrates winning the 2016-17 World Rugby Sevens Series.

Hong Kong will be the last leg before the Games on the Gold Coast, giving the likes of heavyweights South Africa, England and New Zealand a final chance to tune up.

The 2017-18 series takes on added significance as it acts as a build-up to the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco from July 22-22.

2017-18 schedule:

December 1-2: Dubai

December 9-10: Cape Town

January 26-28: Sydney

February 3-4: Hamilton

March 2-4: Las Vegas

March 10-11: Vancouver

April 6-8: Hong Kong

April 28-29: Singapore

May 26-27: Paris

June 2-3: London

The Sevens World Cup will be played in San Francisco on July 20-22.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: hk dates confirmed amid nz reshuffle