USA Rugby Sevens team kicked off the latest round of the IRB Sevens against current tournament leaders the All Blacks in Hong Kong, former New Zealand winger John Kirwan told The Telegraph newspaper in the UK he believes the shortened format could fuel growth of the game in America following its inclusion as an Olympic sport in Rio 2016.
“Rugby has its international profile but sevens can make it a truly global game.”
“Look at the United States of America. It’s always been seen as a sleeping giant. Well, the Olympics has just woken that giant up. Every year there are 3,000 athletes in America that don’t make the grade for scholarships to elite colleges.
That’s a market to tap into. USA Rugby could have an incredible team in four years’ time. The IRB need to see this as a positive risk and not be turned off by the negative side of things. We mustn’t be scared of sevens.”
USA Rugby, under CEO Nigel Melville, have taken up the challenge of building towards the Olympics. In January, the USOC and USA Rugby announced that they were offering 23 full time professional 7s rugby contracts. The USA Rugby players are based in the Olympic Training Centre near San Diego, CA. These 15 men’s and 8 women’s professional contracts were the first to be awarded in the sport and signaled USA’s medal ambitions. The 2012 IRB Sevens marks the first competitive outings for these players and it has been interesting to watch their early development as individuals and as a team as the tournament has progressed.
Played on a full size pitch, 7s is aerobic intensive. Serious fitness is needed, as well as good defense, good handling and a keen appreciation for space.
Highlights of the Hong Kong Rugby 7s from 2011 – the biggest tournament in the series
There is no doubt that Rugby Sevens will continue to experience explosive growth throughout the “rugby developing” nations. The reason for this is pretty simple. The game is fast and not particularly technical, compared to the full 15-a-side version of the game. Therefore, 7s is relatively easy to understand without knowing much about the sport. It is quick and fun. Kids start off by playing flag or tag rugby, getting them used to the game in it’s non-contact form. This could prove to be the perfect breeding ground for tomorrow’s Olympic rugby players. Flag and Tag rugby has been an international success, with summer leagues taking place throughout the rugby playing world.
Some rugby purists are not excited by the growth of 7s and worry about its impact of the 15s moving forward. However, Kirwan believes there isn’t a conflict between the two.
“I just don’t see the two versions of the sport working against each other. There’s no reason to fear that. The two can co-exist. Of course, they can. The Olympics will make a massive difference and we’ll really see it take off.”
I believe the rugby community should embrace rugby sevens in all it’s glory. The sport will grow as it becomes an established Olympic event and it will produce phenomenal rugby athletes. Regardless of whether it’s 7s or 15s, the more rugby players in the world…the better!
My insider’s view of the Vegas 7s at Sam Boyd Stadium in February 2012
USA Rugby in the HSBC Sevens World Series Standings
USA Rugby remaining rounds of the IRB Sevens
|23-25 March||Hong Kong|
|31 Mar-1 Apr||Japan|
Gavin Hickie, The LineoutCoach, is a former Ireland, Leinster and Leicester rugby player now based in California and taking rugby to the USA. He writes for RugbyMag.com and other publications when not coaching for Belmont Shore and blogging on lineoutcoach.com