I have been involved with the Sevens World Series since its inception either playing or coaching or commentating and am a huge fan. It has gone from strength to strength over the last 15 years and the sport’s return to the Olympics has been massive in terms of taking the game truly global. We are now seeing nations like China and Russia investing heavily in the sport and even introducing it to their school curriculum.
The fact that the sport is multi-gender is also driving development with the likes of Canada and USA investing heavily in both the men’s and women’s game in order to get into a position where they can win a medal. That is not only creating excitement and entertaining tournaments but also commercial opportunities.
I honestly hope we soon see a two-tier series that then creates a real promotion/relegation situation and these evolving nations will then be able to play for a ticket to the big table and I would like to see this accompanied by significant growth in the women’s game. Sevens allows any country the chance to compete which is its unique selling point. It is a truly global game and we will eventually end up with a real Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament – unlike the Rugby World Cup that is really a contest for about six countries.
I have so many great memories of the Sevens World Series but Hong Kong is dear to my heart. It is the blue riband event and during my time as England coach I won an unprecedented four consecutive titles – that had never been done before and has not been done since. The great thing about that was that it was home from home for England and the huge ex-pat community rarely got the chance to sing the national anthem. It is a 40,000-seater stadium but it sounds more like 140,000 when they are in full voice or when you run out in front of the famous South Stand.
Another favourite is Dubai which I think typifies rugby in its truest sense. It is really seven or eight tournaments in one with with the Vets, U19s, the international, the invitational and so on. In the old days you would have an England player getting changed next to some old vet having a fag. Everybody was a rugby player and supporter and once you were out of your competition you just supported the next big event and that would culminate with the World Series finale. That is not quite the set-up now but the carnival spirit is still alive and well. You are playing rugby in the middle of the desert on grass pitches – it could not be any more surreal.
New Zealand have of course dominated the Series, and Sevens rugby in general, and just like their XVs counterparts they are renowned for being fierce competitors. They have a fantastic talent pool at their disposal but the secret to their success is their competitiveness, their spirit, hunger and desire to do their country proud.
Add that to an unrivalled understanding of the game and an ability to execute the basics both accurately and consistently while under pressure and you can see why they have set the benchmark for so long.
For over a decade Gordon Tietjens side has been incredibly consistent. They have always been blessed with good players but those other characteristics shine through and they are just as important when it comes to achieving and then maintaining success.
You can only admire their approach. If you look at what their XVs team is doing, it is all about making the individual better and the collective will take care of itself – and that’s the same with the 7s team.
I think it’s great how New Zealand often use their Sevens programme as a pathway to the XVs with Frank Halai and Charles Piutau just two of the latest graduates. Then there are the likes of Declan O’Donnell and Waisake Naholo in the current Sevens squad who have decided to step away from XVs to concentrate on the shorter version of the game.
Don’t be surprised if we see some of these guys putting their hands up to Tietjens to say I want to be in the Olympics. And I am sure he will say if you show the desire and get yourself conditioned I will consider you.
One player who has already expressed an interest in going to Rio is Sonny Bill Williams. I have no doubt he could make the squad but being Sonny Bill Williams will not be enough to get him in the New Zealand squad for the Olympics. If he declares himself in, with the 2015 Rugby World Cup likely to be his first target when as he returns to union .
That’s the exciting thing, people forget it will be Rugby Sevens in the Olympics, they have not categorised it as rugby union so you could see a number of other league converts expressing an interest in going to Rio. And there is an argument that says they could transfer to Sevens a lot quicker than they could to XVs because it is a much simpler game.
The outlook is great and Sevens could be about to get even more exciting.