The Sevens dilemma
August 21, 2014
Argentina's Buenos Aires won the World Club Sevens at the weekend © Getty Images
The Women's World Cup deservedly took centre stage at the weekend and the Rugby Championship got off to a pulsating start as Australia thwarted New Zealand in their attempt to set a new record for consecutive international victories - which left the much hyped World Club Sevens at Twickenham struggling to get a mention.
Despite all the pre-tournament hype promising star studded teams from North and South America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Russia even the BT Sport commentators had to admit it was not the real thing - I suspect most people turned off when they had to admit to the presence of "a couple of ringers in the Waratahs team" and even the diehards must have given up when Martin Bayfield confessed most of the sides had been "cobbled together", albeit with huge Sevens experience.
Sadly, that is the way Sevens seems to be evolving - teams have no identity. Former England Sevens Coach, Mike Friday, soon to take charge of the USA Sevens squad in the lead-up to the Olympics, gamely tried to keep on message, saying Sevens "is a great breeding ground for future internationals". He meant in XVs and that certainly used to be the case but the shortened version of the game has now become so specialised and so separated from the mainstream it is no longer true.
Cornal Hendricks has appeared for South Africa in both the XV and Sevens forms of the game © Getty Images
Very few of the players representing English clubs last weekend will figure in the Premiership this season and some of them were drafted in just for this tournament from invitation sides such as Samurai - a loose knit band of talented young mercenaries who compete in the big international invitation tournaments in places such as Hong Kong and Dubai. Registration is waived when it comes to Sevens.
It would not matter one iota if Sevens was just about fun invitation tournaments but there are serious implications now that it is an Olympic sport and seen as the main tool for growing the game worldwide.
The Olympics will be a wonderful showcase for rugby - Seb Coe was telling me he was disappointed it was not a part of London 2012 because they would have played the tournament over the first two days in the main stadium - but only if we have the best players in the world competing. The constant complaint I heard from rugby fans about the Commonwealth Games Sevens was that they did not recognise any of the players - many said they lost interest because of it.
Countries such as Kenya have proved they can compete with the best in Sevens even though they would be wiped out in XVs but most of the Sevens squads from the established countries are now made-up of players who are effectively second tier players who have not made it for one reason or another in the full game.
Football and Basketball do not work as Olympic sports because the best players in the world do not compete and the International Olympic Committee will not be happy if they do not see World Cup winning rugby stars in Brazil. Rugby has already reaped huge monetary benefits in countries where automatic funding comes from being included in the Olympic programme but it is, effectively, on probation and will not automatically retain its status going forward so it needs to make an impact.
Some try to argue that the fitness regimes for the two forms of the game are now so different that the top XVs players would not make the team in any case. That is complete nonsense - just don't expect too many selections from the front five. Most of the players who could be involved believe they would need no more than a couple of weeks to adjust.
The other factor that needs to be taken into account is the sheer allure of the Olympics. If I were Richie McCaw or Dan Carter I would definitely fancy an Olympic gold medal as the final accolade before retirement and both have the perfect skill sets for Sevens as well as XVs.
Think of a New Zealand seven consisting of McCaw and Kieran Read propping with Liam Messam (who used to captain the NZ Sevens) at hooker, Aaron Smith and Carter at half-back and the other Smith boys - Conrad and Ben outside. Please do not even try to argue they could not beat the best the Sevens world has to offer.
It would be hard on the guys playing on the world circuit month in month out but it would certainly light-up the Olympics and that can only be good for the development of the game worldwide.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
John Taylor is a former Wales international who toured with the British & Irish Lions in 1968 and 1971. Since retiring he has worked in the media and has covered the last eight Lions tours as a commentator or journalist
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