Rugby Sevens Has A Fantastic Future
One of the greatest investments that World Rugby made was to promote and create a professional structure that would make Rugby Sevens an independent and self-sustainable competition away from any of the orthodox 15-a-side teams and competitions.
Sevens rugby is actually an old variation of the the 15 game and originated in Scotland in 1883 by local businesses to raise funds for their club. After a long time of development and other clubs taking note, the format began to get traction in the 1920s and 1930s and eventually gained enough participants and club support to form tournaments and world cups in the 1990s. A quick search on the internet will bring up plenty to read about the origins of the game, but I am going to look at the current and future prospects of the game.
Sevens is a more compact and quicker version of its big brother, the 15s. The 15 man game is and 80 minute battle between two teams that requires a balance of strength, bulk, technique, speed and skill. There are a lot more factors to consider when coaching and watching a 15 man game. Some games can play out to a tryless draw and have exceptionally low score lines, as with a recent match between Australia and France where the eventual scoreline was 6-0 to Australia. For the uninitiated, that was only two penalty kicks in Australia’s favour.
The average time that the ball is in actual play is about 38 minutes, which works out to be just below half the game time with the rest of the time eaten up by set pieces, line outs and place kicking. This time is needed for the short active-recovery by the players as the games tend to be physical and brutal in the contact areas. Sevens rugby, on the other hand, is said to have a try scored every 70 seconds and the time that the ball is in play has a higher percentage closer to 70% of game time. The type of athlete is very different to what is found in the full format of the game.
Sevens players are generally smaller, but quicker and have a higher stamina over the shortened time. Strength and conditioning coaches will focus on turn of speed and acceleration and do a lot more field work compared to the 15 man game which will incorporate a lot of weights and explosive techniques. The heaviest guys in Sevens are around 100kg while the heavy guys in 15s can top the scales at 130kg. Granted the bigger men don’t move as fast but their bulk and strength are used in scrums and bashing the ball up field.
With this compact version gaining more fans and spectators, it was awarded a place in the Summer Olympic games from 2016. The advantages of Sevens is that a competition and winner can be declared within 2 days as opposed to the 15 man game which requires over a month to declare a World Cup winner. The games are 7 minute halves with a 1 minute break at the halftime. The finals game is extended to 10 minute halves with a 2 minute break. The shortened games were a huge benefit to get rugby reinstated in the Olympics and will surely bring a lot of fans into the realm of the Summer Games.
Qualifying has effectively began with this current HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series (2014-2015) acting as a qualifying series with the top 4 teams in the overall standings winning a place in the games. The rest of the teams will have to go through regional qualification routes and repechage processes.
Even though the series has only completed 2 rounds of a 9 round series and are about to start the 3rd round, there is already talk about the Olympic qualification. Of course all the captains and coaches are saying that they focus on one tournament at a time and so they should. If they remain consistent and focused on winning games the qualifications will take care of itself.
As it stands, Fiji, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia are in the top four bracket but there is still a long way to go with other teams with a single point of a top four finish. Sevens is the type of game that can produce unexpected results. There is very little room for error and mistakes cannot really be rectified in a game, there just isn’t enough time. Of course there are the few teams that dig deep to find a way to win from behind but this is a rare occasion.
Sevens is making a case for larger investment from sponsors and teams as the top teams are the only ones that offer full time contracts while the tier two teams still rely on amateur structures. This gap of development will only hinder the development of ‘smaller’ teams and some investment needs to be taken on to avoid a “wealth” gap in rugby. The more professional a team can be, the better access to resources they have and therefore develop better athletes and talent.
The future is bright for this format of the game but I doubt that it’ll ever overshadow the 15 man game as it would be like comparing apples and oranges. Each game offers unique standards and technical nuances but there is room for both formats to coexist and in fact, both formats can benefit from each others successful presence.