Why Rugby 7s remains so strong after 30 years
THE year was 1989 and Byron Bay was very different town - the short were shorter and the beer was cheaper, but the town's love for rugby remains strong.
The 30th Coopers Invitation Byron Bay Rugby 7s Festival will be held this weekend, with 16 women's and 16 competitive men's teams, plus 24 social men's teams.
The off-field celebrations will be held tomorrow, with an All-Stars Long Lunch at Club Byron, 18-20 Marvell St, from 12.30pm.
Those attending the will meet launch Wallabies legends George Smith and Lote Tuqiri, plus All Blacks greats Rico Gear and Caleb Ralph, plus a host of other stars in an afternoon that promises to be full of stories and laughs.
The stars will also be on the field, as dual international Andrew Walker has been added to the All Stars team playing in the rugby carnival.
The team has been selected by George Smith, and it former Wallabies Mark Chisolm, Mark Gerrard, Steve Kefu, Radike Samo and Lachie Turner in the All Stars team for the two-day carnival.
Former NRL players Todd Carney and Jamie Lyon, who now live locally, will also be in the team.
One of the founders of the event, Kevin Maher, said the festival has given Byron Bay an identity around the world as somewhere to go and have fun playing rugby.
Mr Maher has vivid memories of the very first tournament.
"(I remember) holding the black tie ball on the Saturday night and having players do the full monty on stage; then they decided to have nude races to the top of the goal posts in the pouring down rain," he said.
Mr Maher said the whole Byron rugby community is to be credited for the longevity of the event.
"Without the help of volunteers from our club and from the area the event would be struggling to survive for this many years," he added.
Byron Bay Rugby president, Eddy Brown, became involved after seeing the strong community behind the sport.
Originally from England, Mr Brown said he could not stop himself from playing and then actively participating in the club.
"About six years ago, I heard about it and wondered down to the grounds, and blew my mind how many people were there and how much fun everyone was having playing and watching the rugby," he said.
"That inspired me to start playing rugby again, join the club, and then I became involved and now I'm the president of the club.
"I grew up around rugby and it gives you a sense of inclusion, it gives you a family and discipline, and it keeps you connected, fit and healthy, no matter where you are in the world," he added.
It all starts today and tomorrow with the schools sevens competitions.
- At the Byron Bay Recreational Grounds Tennyson St, Byron Bay, this Saturday and Sunday. Visit byronbay7s.com.au.