The Change of Guard In Rugby Sevens
It takes something special to change an ancient establishment. Something epic, something that pulls the masses together, something that redefines our beliefs. That something can well be here and we are witnessing a seismic shift in the world of rugby.
We are seeing former minnows of rugby standing up and making things count, making a name for themselves and challenging the best with favourable results. Even though the 15-man game of rugby is orthodox and requires years of incremental change to become a better team, the “baby” brother format, the Rugby 7s requires a little more than a week for things to change.
I cannot tell you if it’s the motivation of the Olympics or the undeniable growth of the game or the workings of an internationally renowned coach, but when countries like USA are consistently booking a place in the cup quarter final stages, then we can claim witness to a seismic shift in world power.
The USA have had some mixed fortunes over the past decade at Sevens level but have been moving their standings in an upward trend. Looking back to 1999/2000, when the Eagles competed in the world series, they finished 18th, competing in 5 events. They couldn’t earn a log point and were seen as place fillers for some events. Their previous best finish in the overall standings has been 11th in a few seasons and they have won a few bowls and shields along the way, but the 2014/2015 season is something different.
Last year, they had one of their worst finishes and this resulted in veteran players walking out and a new coach was sought. Since then, the USA Eagles have secured the services of Mike Friday, former England and Kenya coach. This could well be the catalyst for change as the Eagles have finished in the cup playoffs for the last 3 tournaments and are gathering momentum to be better.
Sevens, by it’s very nature, is an unpredictable game and every team has to maintain full concentration during the game time as any mistake is difficult to rectify in such a short time. This concentration coupled with skill can determine a winner in any given game. The skill set of a sevens rugby player is different from the orthodox players of the 15-man game. There are similarities but it’s difficult to teach a 130kg prop to side step, swerve and offload while running at full-tilt.
Sevens players generally avoid the contact areas and rucks are made up of two or three men with quick ball being the key to creating space for the men of speed. With these variables in play, the game is exciting and produces unconventional results. It isn’t every day that we see USA draw with South Africa in rugby, but it’s a result that is possible and does happen in Sevens.
I know that I write this article highlighting the USA eagles success, but let’s be honest. Rugby is said to be the fastest growing sport in the States, the Vegas sevens this year has hit record high numbers in regards to spectators with 68,000 in two days, with an extra day in hand. I wrote before that the giant is still yet to wake up, but I believe now that we are seeing the giant of the USA Eagles stirring and removing the covers.
The Las Vegas 7s is becoming a famous event and could rival old establishments like Hong Kong and Twickenham. Vegas won the right to host the USA leg of the series In 2010 from San Diego and the event has become a favourite for fans and teams alike. Spectators flock the famous entertainment area and witness teams partake in a parade of nations before the action takes place on the 36,800-seater Sam Boyd Stadium. The atmosphere is said to a huge party with people turning up in every manner of costume and cheering their team on, especially the home crowd. It is one of two tournaments that spans over three days and recently pulled in a capacity crowd each day. It’s one of the tournaments that I am willing to travel for when possible.
The Olympics will be interesting with more than one nation entering as favourites. The USA are current Olympic champions, holding that title since 1924 and it could be possible that they defend this title in 2016. Countries like South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Fiji are no longer the certain favourites, especially with teams like USA improving every tournament.
Rugby Sevens is the door through which a change in guard is possible and it’s a good thing. To have competition that caters to the best, no matter what team, is healthy and could well possibly generate untold fortunes and growth.