For some time now the International Rugby Board has been unabashed in its attempt to woo the global sporting world to the ever increasing charms of rugby. To that end inclusion in the Olympic Games represents the best possible shop window.
Rugby Sevens might lack the intricacies of the main game but as a dynamic introduction the watered down version has instant and obvious appeal. As of now it is competing with baseball, golf, karate, softball, squash and roller sports for one of two available places at the 2016 Olympic Games.
The IRB doesn’t do shoddiness, when it presents it does so with style and precision. Over the past weekend at the World Cup Sevens in Dubai the game’s governing body has presented to the watching world the consummate case for Sevens inclusion. Even 7’s sceptics within the sport — who put the reduced game on a par with Barbarian rugby and its unreal razzamatazz — cannot but have been taken in by the weekend’s events.
Let me turn up my hand here. I have long been a supporter of — and in my playing time an active participant in — the Sevens version. I know it is almost sacrilege to say so given THE TRY in THE MATCH when the BaBas beat the All Blacks at Cardiff in ’73 but the Barbarian concept has never floated my boat and yes I too have worn the famous black and white in my time.
When the Southern Hemisphere touring tradition to these parts demanded the Barbarian finale — effectively the Lions on home soil — it was a concept worth supporting. But that ideal — remember ‘auld lang syne’ at the final whistle before the tourists departed — is long a thing of the past. Professionalism has put paid to that.
Sevens by contrast is a game for the here and now and with a very real and intrinsic part to play in the future — IRFU take note. But back to Dubai and that window of opportunity created with precision and executed with style and panache. With the Six Nations on mid tournament hold, the Tri Nations some way from kicking off, and even with domestic tournaments ticking over everywhere, the Fifth Rugby World Cup Sevens could hardly have been better timed.
While legislators can legislate in terms of planning they cannot influence what transpires once those white lines have been crossed. What we witnessed was a rugby extravaganza but with a very real and competitive cutting edge. The message for me was one of an oval ball game growing in popularity and with it a genuine threat to long established rugby power.
Just as Brazil and Italy, Argentina and Germany will continue to the fore in world soccer so too will Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, England and France in world rugby but now, as illustrated forcibly through Sevens, there is a new and fast developing market. There is a long way to go before bridging the big gap between Sevens and the Full Monty but there is a very definite foundation being put in place and for which the IRB deserves great credit.
The Dubai semi finalists came from four different continents with Wales and Argentina making it through to the final courtesy of wins at the penultimate stage over Samoa and Kenya respectively. The hitherto powerhouse Sevens kings New Zealand, South Africa, England and Fiji bowing out to Wales, Argentina, Samoa and Kenya in that order.
As for Ireland? We too managed to cause an upset when beating the Wallabies but despite making it through to the Bowl final we were way off the winning pace losing to Portugal and Samoa in the Pool before going under to Zimbabwe the beleaguered nation for whom even this third tier win meant so much.
Certainly for young up and coming players like Conan Doyle, Tom Gleeson, Felix Jones and Kyle Tonetti this World Cup experience will have benefited them enormously. The IRFU has been somewhat laissez faire in its attitude to Sevens rugby in the past. It may have originated in the Scottish Borders (hence the aptly named Melrose World Cup trophy) but we do have a history of merely dabbling in the reduced numbers game.
In my playing time the club season kicked off with the Castle (Fifteen a side) Trophy in Stradbrook and finished with the Old Belvedere Sevens at Anglesea Road in April. Both were national tournaments with the Sevens open to teams (mainly the UK) from abroad.
There was also the annual Blake Sevens in Glenina.