When Byron doubles as heaven for the sevens
By Sports Editor IAN MONAGHAN email@example.com
RUGBY Union diehards, from celebrated stars through to ageing warriors, have been making an October beeline for Byron Bay for the past 15 years.
A rugby sevens tournament launched tentatively in 1990 has grown to become the largest in Australia outside the metropolitan areas.
And this weekend it's on again ? the Byron Bay Sevens, two days of spectacular football catering to 32 men's and 16 women's teams.
Total prizemoney this year is $10,000, with $3000 each to the winners of the men's and women's top grades.
Tooheys and The Rails hotel at Byron Bay are the major sponsors of a tournament which has again attracted an international assortment of sevens combinations.
Among the interesting ones this time are the New Zealand All Blacks women's development squad and a Royal Australian Navy women's team.
In the men's open division, expect plenty of expansive attack from the Super 14 would-bes of the future within two Australian development squads.
These two teams are coached by a third of the legendary Ella trio, Glen, and the intention is to use the Byron Bay Sevens as a selection trial for the Australian Sevens, due to be played in Dubai in three weeks.
There's also plenty of international flavour among the men's opens, with teams from Fiji and New Zealand.
Long-time regulars include Red Rock, made up of Fijians living in Brisbane.
Many Byron Bay Rugby Club regulars can vividly recount a meeting with Red Rock back in 2003 when dual international winger Lote Tuqiri and Co took the locals apart 72-0 in just 14 minutes.
Tuqiri scored one try in which he left all seven Byron defenders sprawled in his wake.
Competition at the Byron Bay Recreation Grounds will start at 9am today and tomorrow, with the finals from early tomorrow afternoon.
Admission is free.
As much a part of the Byron Bay Sevens as the football is the social side, with the town's many entertainment options hosting what Byron Bay Rugby Club president Dr John Stevens estimates will be about 1200 visitors, a major boost to the district economy.
Byron Bay Rotary Club provides the food for the tournament, in what is also the service club's biggest fundraiser of the year.
DURING its 16-year history the Byron Bay Sevens has served up its share of big names.
Dual international and former Brisbane Broncos winger Lote Tuqiri left a big impression in 2003, while others to share in the fun and excitement, Byron Bay Sevens-style, include former Southern Cross Uni and Wallaby second-rower Justin Harrison, Wallaby centre Nathan Gray and another former Australian representative, back-rower Willie 'O'.
ONE of the trademarks of the Byron Bay Sevens is the impromptu.
That sort of spontaneous addition to the program has in the past included a nude match, courtesy of the Darwin-based Palmerston Crocodiles.
"It was introduced last year," Byron Rugby Club president Dr John Stevens said. When pressed about if it was going to be repeated, his honest answer was, 'Who knows?'
And that's the nature of things at the Byron Sevens.
There's also a pretty spirited match in which the girls show no mercy against the tournament referees.
The free-wheeling nature of the weekend is one which has seen some teams returning every year since the 1990 launch ? like the Old Rats, made up of former Southern Cross Uni mates, and Sydney club sides Gordon and Sydney University.
THE Byron Bay Sevens owes plenty ? in fact everything ? to Bangalow couple Stu and Catherine Mackell.
They kicked things off in 1990 and have been in there organising and planning each tournament ever since ... including this weekend.