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Is sevens "real" rugby?

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John Beattie | 12:14 UK time, Sunday, 2 May 2010

I worry a bit about sevens. I prefer 15-a-side rugby. And I wonder whether rugby should be in the Olympics.

In 1883 two Scottish butchers, Ned Haig and David Sanderson, stumbled on an idea to make money for their club, Melrose. They invited other teams to play a shortened version of the game with only seven players in each side. From 2016 it will be an Olympic sport.

As inventors they joined a list of Scots who gave us things like the TV, car tyres, antiseptics, golf, the decimal point, logarithms, marmalade, the tarmac road, raincoats, penicillin, the telephone, whisky, economics, and, of course, the US and Chilean fleets.

Only the Chilean navy got stuck in its particular part of the world, as the others have spread right across the planet.

jackie_chan_595_getty.jpg The Hong Kong Sevens shows just how global rugby sevens has become. Photo: Getty.
And in case you think I am being anti-my neighbours, let me acknowledge that the rest of the UK did indeed invent almost everything else in the world whether sporting or not.

What Ned and David probably never realised is that they had invented rugby's biggest selling tool.

It would be nice in Scotland to see more of those 2,500-strong crowds who turned up to watch Currie play Ayr at the weekend in the 15s game rather than have this time of year dominated by sevens in Scotland, but I have to accept that sevens is taking over the world and the Melrose tournament is superb.

And do you know what makes it rugby's best selling tour? It's now an Olympic sport. A wee game, tweaked from its English source, will now have money invested in it like never before.

The Chinese, whose army has been coached by former Scotland coach Frank Hadden, will now invest heavily in rugby, as will the US and very probably every major economy in the world. There are rumours that the Chinese army wanted volunteers to try a new game called rugby, and 10,000 signed on the dotted line.

In small island economies like Fiji it is the principal game, and as a marketing tool it has few parallels.

The seven-a-side version of rugby will now be seen across the world when played at the Olympics from 2016 and the profile of rugby will never be the same again as kids will see the sport and want to play it for the first time.

Now, this is superb for the sport, but is sevens "real" rugby? I suppose it is, but what I regret about sevens is that, in general, most of the blokes who should be running around in the sun and getting faster and fitter - namely the front row and the second rows - don't have a role.

The end of this season will be a beautiful contrast between the Heineken Cup, the Super 14, the Guinness Premiership, the Magners League and the IRB Sevens.

And then we have sevens at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi later in the year. Rugby joins tennis and golf in the Olympics is just six years.

And I wonder if that will be all good for the sport? Or even if rugby should be in the Olympics?


  • Comment number 1.

    If it gets more countries interested in the game then I can't see it as a bad thing. Sevens is great to watch as a spectacle but admittedly less of an all round game than 15s. The lack of equality in our game (how many teams can actually win a "world" cup?) is something we all want to see improved upon I think. I think 7's can help with this

  • Comment number 2.

    John,surely the more exposure the better for our great game,by the way good to see your blue bin was out this morning hope i did not wake you up.

  • Comment number 3.

    Anything that raises the profile of our game must be a good thing. Look at how 20/20 has raised the profile of cricket - a game that had suffered it own share of 'old farts' in management. This new format has been fantastic for cricket.

    In the same guise, Sevens Rugby is another great advert for the game. No place to hide either, tackles have to be made, passes have to be caught and everyone has to play their part if your team is to win. Its also a great spectacle for those new to the game. The Rugby is exciting, the crowds are partisan BUT friendly and the atmosphere is alway fantastic.

    John, forgive me, but I sense that you are showing your conservative age! Let's embrace this new outlet for the game and hope that the Home unions exploit the great publicity to attract more support for the game.

  • Comment number 4.

    Real rugby? Yes. Fun? Absolutely. Same as 15-a-side? Hardly. Should it be in the Olympics? Absolutely not. Nor should tennis, football, basketball or a host of other modern inclusions which a) don't fit with the Olympic motto or ideals, b) don't need the exposure, and/or c) employ highly-paid star players on a vanity trip.
    Does rugby need the exposure? Is it disrespectful to use the Olympics as a PR exercise? Is it anyway the best strategy to use a truncated version of the game as a taster? Will there be any crossover in viewing figures to the 'full' game? All good questions to which there aren't immediate answers. Personally, I don't like the idea. Am I a stuck-in-the-mud old curmudgeon? Possibly...

  • Comment number 5.

    Excellent blog. This is a brilliant opportunity for rugby John.

    Sevens will become the centrepiece of every Olympics in the future. Supporters from countries all over the world getting happily drunk together in the best rugby tradition.

    But I have issues with Olympics Sevens, for which I won letter of the month and 2 crates of beer from Rugby World, rather appropriate since I was drunk when I wrote it [so this might be familiar].

    One: The Rugby World Cup should not have had to be sacrificed. Golf never had to give up the Open, tennis never had to give up Wimbledon and football never had to give up the world cup for their sports to be accepted to the Olympics.

    The Olympics is supposed to encourage sporting competition not reduce it. There is little enough sevens rugby for a nutjob like me to watch.

    Two: How can London host the Olympics and leave Twickers empty? Sevens has been accepted as an Olympic sport but will not be played till 2016 in Rio. Why wait? Rugby is a huge part of London's character an UK's sporting culture. This should be Lord Coe's job. Sellout Twickers = huge revenues. Bring sevens early.

    Three: Scotland aren't playing, instead it will be Team GB which actually means Team UK [England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland] while the Republic of Ireland have to field their own team. Messy is all I'm going to say. Would it be wise of the UK/GB selectors to pick from Scotland, England and Wales only?

    Four: On what basis will players be selected? Professional XV players or sevens circuit players only or youth level players as with England in football?

    Sevens is pure rugby at it's best, without the cheating that is now so rampant in XV and has me chewing through my pillows in teary frustration.

    Sevens will go global in a way that XV can't and I couldn't be happier.

  • Comment number 6.

    John, Im actually now convinced that you write these blogs to invoke a reaction from the public! Which is not necessarily a bad thing! First the blog regarding booing during kicks and now this! Of course inclusion in the olympics is a good thing, as you said, its a global marketing tool and will bring the game to a world wide audience. Speaking as a prop, i love this time of year, its a chance for a rest, have a few beers and watch some of the quicker lads play some quality running rugby!

  • Comment number 7.

    Sevens is a very different game to the full version and as you said there is no place for the tight five. I think the IRB missed a trick in not promoting Tens as the Olympic version. With ten players a side & each half lasting ten minutes it doesn't take that much more time than sevens but with 3 or 5 men scrums has room for the forwards.

    As the game was invented in Malaysia was wondering if you came across it in your youth?

  • Comment number 8.

    Of course 7s is real rugby as it is played to the same laws as the 15 man game - with a couple of modifications to take account of numbers. It is also a great game to watch and the tournaments are a great day out for everybody.

    Should it be in the Olympics. IMHO, yes as it is a team game with gladiatorial connotations, more so than soccer.

    How should the team for the Olympics be selected? Well, Wales, England and Scotland all field a 7s squad on the IRB circuit. There is no reason why a UK squad cannot be selected from the best of that bunch together with any contenders from Northern Ireland.

  • Comment number 9.

    John, are you really worried about sevens?

    You don't really mention any negative points about it. What are the things that worry you? That it gets bigger than the 15 man game? That test rugby will feel the threat of sevens like test cricket and 20twenty?

    I struggle to think of any others.

    I heard that Russia has earmarked truckloads of cash for rugby development now 7s is in the olympics. Thats a nation already close to competitive at the top table. With rugby as the national sport in Georgia (and a decent team) we could see a new area of serious rugby powers emerge... can't be bad.

  • Comment number 10.

    Hooray: some reason to watch the Oympic games! We ex-props will never be entirely comfortable with sevens, but all that swimming and haring around the track and jumping a giddy height over the bar is very, VERY difficult to relate to anything we know, and not a little tiring. And as to the weight-lifters, well, any prop THAT poor on mobility wouldn't go the distance...!

    Seriously, though, I'll be watching the sevens at the Olympics, and I wish them well. It's not rugby, but the good thing about sevens is that the less-affluent countries can compete, and deliver the odd surprise. Romance has a place even in the hearts of old props with broken noses, thick ears, stiff backs, wooden knees and forgotten mojo.

  • Comment number 11.

    Stuckincanada - good point, it makes more teams able to win at sevens

    Alex Mack - blue bin always out..

    Wise owl - Conservative??? Just think that front five need to play in good weather - it's maybe a Scottish thing

    Scots sevens nut job - yes, could have been in London

    Ulster in Edinburgh - no, write it depending on what comes into my head.

    Mike - we played chicken scratch rugby on top of a field in Penang....maybe it was ten a side

    Philip - team GB! I had forgotten about that

    Hookers armpit and segnes. Not worried about sevens. Great to see rugby in Olympics, but strange when you have been brought up with the idea that Olympics is running and jumping.

    Was down watching Jenny play in the cup final, very emotional and Arsenal lost. Can't win all the time is one of the lessons sport teaches you.


  • Comment number 12.

    When it comes to the Olympics there is a special agreement in place between the IOC, the BOA and Irish Olympic Committee that allows any athlete born in Northern Ireland to chose whether he or she represents Great Britain and Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. Whether this was in place when Mary Peters was doing her stuff in 1972, I'm not sure.

    Hence any Northern Irish player can opt to chose between the GBR/NI team or the ROI side. I just hope that when it comes to chosing a team more sympathy to the indivual athlete and more common sense is used than has been with the GBR/NI Olympic football team.

  • Comment number 13.

    John my boy - surely you wouldn't be looking to deny Fiji a chance of winning their only gold medal, er, ever?

    Having the 7s at the Olympics can only encourage interest in the 15s game and that is obviously to be commended. 7s is ideal for the Olympics - contact is not as heavy so fewer injuries, it's a free running spectacle (the best part of the game in any event for most people) and the variety is huge for those at the stadium - all those different teams in an afternoon.

    As has been pointed out above, the real issue is how on earth you pick a 'British' team from the current home nations...

  • Comment number 14.

    Ah, that's interesting. Is that true? Any Northern Irish player could choose between GB/NI or ROI? I will away a check up.

    George Carlin, Come on Fiji. Or Western Samoa. Yes, how would you pick a team GB? I reckon most countries would release their top players for Olympics year so you would have, certainly in Scotland's case, a few current fifteens internationalists put on a sevens circuit in the lead up to the Olympics.


  • Comment number 15.

    I think 7s will be great for getting rugby played in more and more countries, leading to more people picking up the 15 a-side version more easily. At the moment, as far as I've seen, most countries where people try to develop interest in rugby, they start off with, it's great to get people involved in any way, but I think people starting off with 7s will be more likely to play the full game, than people playing touch. For the Olympics, it's the perfect sport; multiple games possible in one stadium and on one day, so many teams can compete; more than a handful of possible winners; party atmosphere; and perhaps most importantly, for this particular form of rugby, the Olympics will be the highest possible achievement (with the 7s world cup scrapped to ensure that), thus providing competitive games.

  • Comment number 16.

    Tinhead Ned, I agree about Olympics being an excellent promotion for the game. But the Olympics is only once every 4 years. I would have liked to see a World Cup every other non-Olympic year.

    The Sevens series will have to do for me, it's still a very worthwhile trade off. Russia had a cracking winger who played at the Murrayfield Sevens a while back and then dropped off the sevens circuit.

    Big countries will be getting into it in a big way. Every rugby country will be fielding their big guns. Carter for NZ, Habana for SA, Ngywenya for USA. And the world watching and wanting a go.

    Exciting times for any rugby fan.

  • Comment number 17.

    This sounds like the 'Is Twenty20 cricket ?' debate.
    Unlike Twenty20, Rugby Sevens has a history (back to 1883 as you point out). Any sport that can survive and prosper over that period of time has proven its quality and worth. I suspect it will be a big success in the Olympics - especially in Rio.

  • Comment number 18.

    EYE GOUGING - Man oh man have you seen the picture? Just to repeat an earlier blog - eye gougers should be banned for life.


  • Comment number 19.

    Chalmers for GB Sevens coach !

  • Comment number 20.

    Hear, hear. Now that women play rugby, eye-gouging takes pride of place as the last thing rugby has room for. Come to think of it, there never was a problem with women, anyway.

    I can't help myself: I have to be silly. Heaven forefend eye-gouging women players. (Okay, okay, I'm out of here...!)

  • Comment number 21.

    In rugby we keep score to see who won, in football it's the same, badminton, hockey, boxing, it's all the same.



  • Comment number 22.

    Come on John, you are just trying to be provocative. Are you worried sevens is a dumbing down of the traditional game - rugby lite perhaps? Twenty20 has proved how to attract new blood to the sport of cricket but it will not replace one day or test cricket. I enjoy an evening of Twenty20 at Old Trafford but it is completely different than watching a day's test match - both extremely pleasureable in their own way.

    Sevens rugby makes the game accessible to thousands of people who are new to the game. Why? Because it is simple and exciting. Let's embrace it John - of the new people who come to the game, some will stick with sevens and some may be encouraged to progress to the fifteen aside game - but when all's said and done, they are new recruits to our sport which has to be good.

    One last thing - can we use this forum to raise a petition to ban eye gougers for life?

  • Comment number 23.

    i cant believe nobody has mentioned 10's its a fantastic version of the game we love, a perfect compromise between 7's and 15's that allows forward bosch and also rewards open back play. i think it does all that 7's does in terms of being a spectacle to interest the new to the game but it is also a far better introduction to the sort of play that leads to 15's. 5 forwards 5 backs, couldnt be simpler. some great 10's comps around the world to, perfect for touring!!!! does anyoone else play 10's?

  • Comment number 24.

    Come on John, lets get the research in correctly. Whiskey was 1st invented in...will you be surprised? Probably not...IRELAND.

    Sorry for being so annoying.

    Kind regards

    Your avid follower

  • Comment number 25.

    Tom, I had some last night, it felt Scottish, it tasted Scottish, it had the hint of peat about it, whisky was invented in SCOTLAND! Ah, whiskey, with an e, you say.......


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