Those same people would also argue that the best XVs players would struggle to impress in the shortened version of the game and again I would disagree. If you can pass accurately and effectively over long distances and feel comfortable and able to defend wide open spaces and execute one-on-one tackles then there is no reason why you cannot be a successful player in both forms of the game.
Of course speed is a factor, but in a Sevens team you don’t just need quick men. Admittedly it does not suit the front five but you still need players of all sizes to fulfill different roles just as you do in XVs. For example, take New Zealand’s DJ Forbes. He would be the first to admit he is not the quickest but he is a mobile back row forward who is so effective around the breakdown, able to defend space, comfortable with ball in hand and able to make good decisions and run accurate lines off the ball in support.
Those attributes are just as valuable if you want to be a world class Test player you just touch the ball more in Sevens. You are also under more of a microscope on the Sevens stage and that is why it is such a great development tool for those players aspiring to become XVs internationals because they soon learn that mistakes will more often than not cost opportunities and points.
The main difference between a Sevens and a XVs player is conditioning but that is a 10-week adjustment and I see no reason why established Test players who have experienced Sevens as part of their development pathway, like England’s Ben Foden, could not switch back ahead of rugby’s return to the Olympics in 2016. Those players will understand the mental and physical demands of Sevens and will be prepared to go to some tough places from a conditioning perspective. Of course they would also need game time but the framework of Sevens is very simple – a lot less complicated that XVs – and if the right type of XVs players want to play Sevens then it is easily done.
The chance to play in the Olympics will be very tempting for some and if contracts allow I think we will see some big names playing in Rio with former All Black and current rugby league star Sonny Bill Williams among those reportedly interested in taking part. I think he could make the switch but being Sonny Bill Williams will not be enough to get him in the New Zealand team. He will need to do the hard work and perform to get himself in the squad and the same goes for his fellow Olympic hopeful and league star Benji Marshall.
One thing in their favour is the fact that Sevens is not as complicated at XVs and getting up to speed should not take too long and that is just one of the attractions for players and fans. The party atmosphere at each event is great with the crowds fully integrated into the action but the real beauty of Sevens is that it is fast-moving and ultra-competitive. It is not as predictable as XVs and the demands of the game allow the whole world to compete. You don’t need lots of good players – you only need seven. That may sound silly but you don’t need those front five forwards that are key to the Test match game – you need footballers and athletes that can be more flexible. It is easier for a rugby nation to break into the top tier and it is harder for the top sides to to stay at the top. It offers true – and multi-gender – competition which makes it a perfect fit for the Olympic movement.
The best side in the world – New Zealand – have shown repeatedly that the secret to success in Sevens is not rocket science, it’s just a matter of executing the basics accurately under pressure. That’s what is attracting the world to play and now you are seeing these emerging nations coming in and impressing immediately – they are not having to evolve. They do not have to have 20 quality forwards just to hold their own, they have to master the basics and then are able to compete.
Everyone loves an underdog and everyone loves competition and that is why I can see Sevens getting bigger and bigger and these so-called unknown nations being able to compete with the historic super powers in time for the Olympics. That is what is so frustrating about on-going debate regarding Team GB. Is there going to be a combined side? Will one nation represent Team GB? There doesn’t appear to be any cohesion or agreement on what the model will be or who is going to drive it. Are they going to adopt a similar approach to the British & Irish Lions or a different model? All teams need time to prepare, grow their culture and environment as well as time to bring all their skills together.
Potentially they have a talent pool that could seriously threaten New Zealand’s dominance but there are some political and stakeholder issues that need to be resolved before Team GB are in a position to compete but time is running out. If you look at New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, they have stolen a march and are 12-18 months into their Olympic preparation programmes. It is a similar story in the women’s game where New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the USA are well ahead of the game.
Have you coached both Sevens and XVs rugby? How do you find the comparison? What are the key differences from a coaching perspective? Comments below…