Teams from 19 countries paraded into Garden Place in central Hamilton this afternoon and were entertained by cultural performances representing Fiji, South Africa, China and Samoa in front of a large crowd.

Former All Blacks Sevens player Karl Te Nana formalised proceedings by cutting a giant birthday cake 21 years after he played in the first HSBC New Zealand Sevens in Wellington.

HSBC New Zealand Sevens General Manager Steve Dunbar said the stage was set for another successful event in the Garden City.

“The stadium is filling up, the weather forecast is great, and the city is buzzing. The rides are ready, the bars are set up, and the players can’t wait to get out on the field and put on a show.”

When the tournament kicks off at FMG Stadium Waikato tomorrow morning at 9:30am there will be a key difference with women’s teams, including the Black Ferns Sevens, included for the first time in an event that’s taken Hamilton City to heart.

“The local community has been incredible once again,” Dunbar said. “We’ve had 12 women’s teams here this year along with 16 men’s teams and they’ve embraced, and been embraced by the host city.”

The teams took part in 14 community activities during the week with some memorable moments.

Kenyan players engaged StarJam children with disabilities in a heart-warming dance battle.

Players from Scotland, England and the USA took children from The Graeme Dingle Foundation to the Hamilton Zoo.

South Africa made their annual visit to the local hospital’s children’s ward.

Japanese players spent time at the McKenzie Centre with children with disabilities.

Players from France and Ireland spent time with the Selwyn Wilson Carlile Village for the elderly.

There will be plenty of other activities to keep fans entertained across the weekend, with three festival zones in action – the Carnival Zone, Keppler X Haval VIP Zone and the Mill Street Park Zone.

Top Kiwi acts Mitch James and JessB are also expected to light up the weekend for sevens fans, while chart-topping reggae-roots band Sons of Zion will perform live on Saturday at the Mill Street Park R18 Entertainment Zone.

Gates open at 9am on Saturday with the first women’s Pool match between France and Spain kicking off at 9:30am, and 8.15am on Sunday.

The Black Ferns Sevens will be the first New Zealand team in action when they play China at 11am on Saturday, while the All Blacks Sevens first match is against Wales at 2:31pm.

The thrilling finale will see the women’s Cup final played at 8:26pm on Sunday evening and the men’s Cup final at 8:56pm.

Additional traffic management around FMG Stadium Waikato will be in place, with closures for:

  • Tristram St (from Liverpool St to Willoughby St), 6am-10.30pm on both match days
  • Mill St (from Willoughby St to Norton Rd) and Seddon Rd (from Mill St to Goldsmith St), 7am-10.30pm on both match days.

Mobility Parking for Sevens fans will be clearly signposted and located on Willoughby St.

Fans wanting to head to the stadium from the south end of Hamilton’s central business district can catch a free shuttle from Hood St to Mill St between 10am and 4pm.