Rugby X: New five-a-side format to debut at O2 Arena in October

Ben Ryan Olympic gold
Ben Ryan won Olympic gold as a coach with Fiji in 2016

A five-a-side version of rugby can revolutionise the game at professional and grassroots levels, says Olympic gold medal-winning coach Ben Ryan.

The first 'Rugby X' event - featuring men and women - has been confirmed for 29 October at London's iconic 02 Arena.

The five-a-side format is described as "fast and furious", while retaining rugby's "core principles".

"It will bring new players and supporters into the sport," Ryan told BBC Sport.

"I see it as a really exciting variation on the game."

How will it work?

  • a 5-a-side game played on a smaller pitch without posts
  • an emphasis on skill over power
  • launch event to take place during the latter stages of the Rugby World Cup
  • teams will be comprised of mainly international 7s players
  • to be shown on terrestrial television at peak hours
  • some international stars whose teams have been knocked out of the World Cup may be involved

Ryan hopes 'Rugby X' could make the same impact T20 cricket has since its inception in 2003 - a shorter, more understandable version that will help attract a younger audience.

"That's the plan. If you look at 15s as being your five-day Test matches, and the one-day internationals being 7s, and Twenty20 being Rugby X; I can see that happening," he said.

"We are not clashing with 7s tournaments or 15s tournaments. I see it as a vital tool that can help the 7s."

'More like an NBA game'

Ryan, who is helping to drive the concept, is confident 'Rugby X' can be part of the solution to the sport's sustainability, rather than create another problem.

"It is going to be a little more like an NBA game, where in every moment of dead time, supporters are going to be entertained.

"I was [at the 02] when the Knicks were playing the Wizards [in the NBA], and it was a sell-out and was loud and noisy and amazing.

"There is going to be lights and music, and international Olympic athletes. It is just going to be a great event and a lot of fun.

"World Rugby has given us the green light for this test event and if things go well we would hope they would agree to expand the series."

The saviour of grassroots rugby?

Ryan feels 'Rugby X' could help save grassroots rugby union - especially in state schools.

"I do [see it dying], and I see it across the board," he added. "Extra-curricular sport is dying in state schools, especially in the inner cities.

"It is very hard - even if you are a mad keen rugby teacher working in an inner-city school - to start up rugby at the moment.

"15s is obviously technically difficult as a start-up, and 7s is just aerobically and anaerobically shattering.

"This gives a short-sided and simple version, where teachers with no background in rugby, in limited resources in limited space, can get the game going."

Ryan also hopes a physically demanding yet easily accessible game could help with some of society's more serious problems.

"It is a strand of the solution to what we are seeing going on as far as the increase in crime and knife-crime," he said.

"Give people something to do, give them an interest, give them playing a sport that espouses all the values around team work, and togetherness, and understanding, and mutual respect."

Better for player welfare

Ryan hopes 'Rugby X' will address issues over safety and player welfare that are threatening the viability of the 15-a-side game.

"We are working in a shorter space, so that is going to mean you won't get the collisions you get in 7s or 15s," he said.

"We've done our trials. There will be injuries - it is a contact sport - but the trials have been really positive. We are tweaking things as we go along, but ultimately it is going to be a sport that will support player welfare and reduce injury.

"Once people see this version of the game, they will want to come back. It is going to be accessible, it is not going to be expensive, in some of the best indoor arenas in the world.

"There is going to be a risk with any start-up, but we are pretty sure it is going to catch."

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