Seven-a-side Rugby : Fewer Rucks, fewer Mauls, more Rugby!
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Sevens Special
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History of Sevens Melrose and Middlesex Hong Kong Taupiri
7s in USA Seven Styles Attack Deffense
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Kicking Drills for Sevens Three-week practice A 7s program
Fitness & Training Fitness Testing Selection Analyisis Using Videotape
Americanizing Sevens Bibliography Acknowledgements Profile

Rugby Sevens: A Game to Cherish and Enjoy

During the past 20 years, the popularity of sevens has grown continuously throughout the rugby-playing world.

In some places -- in particular, the Southern hemisphere -- this has been welcomed and inspired an increased emphasis on sevens. As usual, New Zealand and Australia understand what's good for rugby better than their northern compatriots.

Southern Hemisphere

  • New Zealand

    New Zealand, for example, has actually given its national sevens' team official status

    Furthermore, its top coaches and technical people recognize the value of sevens.

    The following is quoted from the April 1986 Rugby:

    Following the game [New Zealand 32 Australia 0], coach Bryce Rope said that the growing stature of sevens "will create a new era in New Zealand rugby."

    Rope feels that sevens has had a tremendous influence on New Zealand's recent backline play in the 15-man game. "I think it's a tremendous way to develop ball skills and get people thinking on their feet," said Rope.

    Bill Freeman, Technical Director of the NZRFU during the emergence of sevens in New Zealand, commented that "it has played a huge part in the development of the All Blacks' performance."

    To the question as to whether sevens should be considered a "friend or foe" of 15s, he answered:

    A friend of 15s. It teaches all the players how to use the ball; it teaches support, it improves players' skills, it develops quick reactions. You tune your mind to play sevens, you program the game components.

    Exactly the same with 15s. Tune the mind to use all the skills and strategy you have developed in 7s; plan what is required, then work the plan. I see no problem.

    Sevens has a part to play in developing the 15s' rugby player. It is a part of the armor of the player. It is not the national game, but it is certainly a part of the national game development.

    Furthermore, New Zealand is developing a formal sevens' program; their intent is to nurture it at the grass roots. Freeman again:

    In New Zealand sevens is part of our national program. The most progressive movement we made in the last two years of my director's position was to develop 7s in our high schools. We now have in place and operating a national tournament for the winners of our provincial 7s' tournament. These 27 teams are brought to Auckland for the national championship.

    A coaching program for 7s is in preparation. We are now able to identify, monitor, and develop the player with 7s' potential. Our national selection takes place over two days so the selector judgement has to be spot on; we certainly erred in selection in the early days.

    With the schools' structure in place we should be in a position to progressively develop the talented into the strong competition for the national side.

    We are also endeavoring to introduce a Hong Kong type of high schools invitational tournament some time soon so the rest of the rugby world may also benefit from our experience.

  • Australia

    Bob Dwyer of Australia is another person that not only sees no problem with the emergence of sevens, but sees in sevens a tool for developing and improving 15s' rugby.

    Asked whether he thought sevens deserved to be treated seriously, Dwyer responded:

    Absolutely. I think that as an entity in itself it's worth pursuing, because the guys get such great satisfaction out of playing -- that can't be bad. I mean, our guys really enjoy thinking hard about the game, and putting their thoughts into practice, and getting the benefit from their thought and concentration.

    So that's great in itself. And it's a tremendous advertisement for the game, too -- it's stupendous; the spectators have a great day. It's like going to watch American football: there's so many stoppages that you can have this great time without having to be entirely dedicated to watching every moment. You have a game, and a little social aside, and miss the next game if you want to, and come back, go and get a beer and a hot dog, come back, and that's great. So that can't be bad.

    And the next thing is, it teaches you to think. Like university courses, and the Americans first told me this -- that universities aren't for teaching you what to know, they're for teaching you how to learn what you eventually want to know. And sevens is for teaching you how to think.

    And I very much like the idea that it is, from my point of view, in lots of ways diametrically opposed in broad principle to what I want guys to do in 15-a-side. But that makes it better for me, because they have to really think hard: they have to think, hang on, what I thought about 15-a-side is not right today, this is right today: so when they've got to think about something else, their thinking process is better, their thinking under pressure is better, their reactions are better, their breadth of vision about the game is better.

    Even our conservatives here, who didn't like it because they didn't understand it, are beginning to understand it. They're beginning to realize that it's got some process going for it, that we can use it. And if the game is for fun, and the players get fun out of it, how can it be bad, in any way, shape or form?

    Asked about the status of Australia's national sevens' team,he replied:

    It ranks in the minds of the guys, which is where it ought to rank. I reckon if the guy had the choice of being chosen on the Australian team, the Australian "B" team, or the Under-21 team, and he was on his way up, he'd choose them before he'd choose the 7s' team, because that's his real aspiration. But for the guys that are already up in that top echelon, to make the 7s' team is very important

    Former Australian captain John Maxwell finds that sevens is particularly useful in improving forwards' skills for the 15s'game:

    It really gives the blokes that have got the skills a new dimension. Sometimes in fifteens rugby they can't get the most out of individual skills, they're restricted. But in sevens they're given the opportunity; if they've got the skills they can develop to the furthest.

    [Sevens] helps with positioning off other players; especially in the pack. They get a better understanding of positioning themselves. I think that's why we haven't seen tight forwards come through as they should: because they haven't been given the opportunity; they don't vary their lines for different [situations]

  • Fiji

    Fiji officialdom, like most others, did not accept sevens as a serious variety of rugby. That is, until Fiji began winning the Hong Kong sevens.

    Fiji team manager Waisake Saukawa noted that, because sevens was considered just a simple fun game, Fiji's top officials didn't favor encouraging it. Since Fiji's successes at Hong Kong, however, they have completely changed: "They now look at sevens as something that does more for the nation than fifteens."

    The nation's reaction to Fiji's 1990 Hong Kong victory certainly indicated the pride that it took in its national sevens' team. In Saukawa's words,

    It was a great glory. It was great for the country. You can imagine. We were given an honor, the nation was waiting for us when we returned from Hong Kong: all along the route we were stopped, even the bus and taxis were all across the road blocking our way. . . The people were all cheering and shouting and we were hugged and kissed as we were marched through the street. There were two bands on the road, the Fiji Military Force Band and the Fiji Police Band. And there were servicemen, the army, the navy, the police; there were the girl guides, the scouts, the children, entire schools in Suva were closed down and they were there to wait for us. Almost 20,000 people on the streets in Suva -- it was a holiday!

    That was a great occasion in my life. It was a great occasion for the boys, it was the first time ever that the Fiji team representing the country in rugby that have been given such an honor. Jesus, it was something great! I don't know when it's going to happen again in Fiji -- it's history, you know.

    Sevens is now in the process of becoming more important than fifteens, and there is a proposal before the Fiji Rugby Union's executive committee to select a squad of 12 players to dedicate to international sevens' tournaments throughout the year, with these players excluded from Fiji's fifteens' program.

    That's the only way to do it. Because the invitations are coming in: tournaments in Holland, in Monaco, in many other parts of the world. We would like to take part in all of them.

    Northern Hemisphere

    The Home Countries

    • Scotland

      Scottish Borders' tournaments continue to thrive, because the people that count -- players and fans -- want it that way. The Melrose Sevens, for example, played in a ground that can seat less than 3000 people, attracted nearly 20,000 fans to its 100th playing in 1990.

      As well as giving countless fans enjoyment, sevens has been given the credit, by several top players, for their own successes at 15s. Melrose's Keith Robertson, one of Scotland's most capped players (44), believes that without sevens, he may well not have enjoyed such success.

      If it hadn't have been for sevens, I doubt very much if I'd have been in the game at an early age; the thought of being able to run about with the ball in my hands with a lot of space really excited me and I caught on very quickly. And I think playing sevens early in my career put me in front of selectors both at South and at Scottish level. I would suggest that sevens has been a very very big part of the success that I've had in my playing career.

      Despite his record 52 caps, Jim Renwick still considers the first time he pulled on a Hawick jersey at a Border 7s tournament as the proudest moment of his rugby career. He sees sevens as being a wonderful vehicle for young players:

      It's the one place in rugby where you can see 16, 17 year old lads shining; they don't always get their chance in 15s, but in sevens, there's definitely a place for young lads to show their ability.

      Moreover, Melrose and Scotland coach Jim Telfer, not known as a great fan of sevens, has shown that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

      I'm looked on as being a coach who doesn't like sevens, but that's not true.

      I've changed actually. I'm still very much a fifteen a side man, but I do see the benefit of sevens: it certainly improves ball awareness skills and ball retention, because in sevens the most important thing is winning possession, the second is what you do with it.

      I think that the seven a side game improves your handling ability, improves your tackling ability, improves your responsibility of doing something positive with the ball in your hands.

      You have the ball in your hands far more often than you do in a normal fifteen a side game and therefore if you've any ability to run and beat men and so on I would think that you have more opportunity in the seven a side game. Especially if you're a decent seven.

      Whereas most people stress the ability of sevens to help forwards understand elements of the fifteens' game, Telfer feels it's equally applicable to improving 15s' skills in the backs.

      If you consider that a winger might not get a pass for 20 minutes [in 15s], in a seven a side game, if he's winning tournaments he's getting passes all the time. So to follow on to the coaching idea that you coach with the ball as often as possible, expose players to the ball, to use the ball in a more competitive way and under more pressure, then that's [what you've got in] sevens.

      We have a policy in the club of looking at certain players, young players, we think could make it in the first fifteen. But because there are certain things missing from their game, or because they're a wee bit deficient or a little bit reticent to do certain things in the fifteen, we're exposing them to the seven a side game.

      Despite his wish that more 15s could be played in April, Telfer thinks that sevens and fifteens can coexist:

      I would say they were living in harmony. Sevens has been going on almost as long as fifteens here and on a fairly well organized basis, the Border tournaments have been going almost a hundred years, all of them. So I think it's looked on as an integral part of the season.

      Nevertheless, in Scotland, where this greatest of games originated, the Border clubs report intense pressure from the Scottish Rugby Union on their April sevens' tournaments to accommodate league play.

      Kelso coach Jim Hewitt, a staunch supporter of sevens, is not optimistic about the final outcome:

      I'm afraid of sevens dying out; they'll never die out in the Borders, of course, but I think they will in the rest of Scotland. And that's a problem because the power in rugby is moving away from the Borders. The power in rugby is moving to Edinburgh, it's more densely populated and that's where the money is.

      BBC announcer and Border man Bill McLaren, echoing Hewitt's fears, notes that when you think of the way the seven-a-side game has spread throughout the world, it seems kind of ironical that here in Scotland we may be thinking of reducing the number of sevens . . . it seems crazy that we should be thinking of chucking them in.

      Hopefully the fact that the first-ever World Cup of Sevens will be held in Scotland in 1993 will help the Border clubs maintain their sevens' tradition.

    • England

      England hosts the largest sevens' tournament in the world, the Middlesex Sevens, which regularly sells out the 60,000 seat Twickenham ground and is one of the highlights of every English rugby season.

      The event's popularity, however, has not served as an impetus to the English hierarchy to showcase its top sevens' players on a national squad: the powers that be have refused to field a national sevens' side ever since their embarrassing loss to Spain in 1986.

      Where there are good people with enlightened views, however, there is hope.

      Dick Best, the coach of the Harlequins of London, certainly the best Northern hemisphere sevens' club of the 1980s, is on record as stating that, despite the pressures of the league season, England should send a national team to Hong Kong.

    • Wales

      Actions speak louder than words. And the most recent exciting action has been the decision by Wales to end the unofficial embargo of British national team participation in the Hong Kong Sevens. Wales was rewarded for its decision with a stunning upset of 5-time Hong Kong champion Australia.

      Although Wales was the first of the home countries to put its reputation on the line at Hong Kong. It almost certainly will not be the last. In fact, as I write, the announcement has been made that Scotland and France will participate in the 1991 Hong Kong Sevens.

    • USA

      The US has been one of the world leaders in the movement to develop a national sevens' team through a series of formalized competitions. In addition, USARFU has created an official 12-week sevens' season, beginning with the first Saturday in June, during which a national sevens' club champion is determined.

      Nevertheless, the system is not without its detractors. National (15s) Coach Jim Perkins, for example, went on record in March of 1990 as being opposed to even considering anyone for the Eagle sevens' squad that's not on the short list for the national 15s' squad.

      When one thinks of the dedication, and all the enjoyment that sevens' specialists like Charlie Wilkinson and Tommy Smith (the 1986 Hong Kong MVP), for example, have given spectators over the world in the last several years, that's a scary proposition.


    Based on the last 15-20 years, we can expect sevens to continue to grow in importance and popularity.

    The case for sevens, in fact, has only begun to be made; imagine, if you can, an Olympic games with sevens as the rugby representative. No, don't laugh, just imagine.

    And now, change gears and imagine 15s as an Olympic sport.

    Which do you think would get more air time, draw more spectators, be most likely to enamor the world general public of rugby?


    It's not a difficult decision, is it?


    The following article was written in 1985 and is reprinted below exactly as it first appeared in an early 1986 issue of Rugby.


    Only a festival game?

    Rugby sevens has reached a point in its development in the US that may cause us to reevaluate the way we treat the game. At a recent meeting at which US 7s selections were being discussed, the comment was made that, despite the process we were undergoing, we must never forget that sevens, after all, is only a festival game, and we shouldn't let it get out of proportion.

    I certainly have no quarrel with that point as a statement of sevens' position in the world of rugby as played in major nations, or as a statement of sevens' position historically within the US. But should it necessarily continue to be that way here, just because that's the way it's always been? The growing popularity of sevens across the country, and the enthusiasm with which players are responding to major tournaments and select side events such as the ITT 7s, and the tremendous response of spectators to a wide-open game that generally features about 5 tries in the span of 14 minutes, may be saying something to us, if only we'd listen.

    That something is, I think, twofold. Firstly, it's telling us that if we want to get rugby before the eyes of an American public that neither understands nor seems to want to understand the game we love so much, sevens may well be the vehicle by which we will first succeed. What event more suited to TV sports that the broadcast of the highlights of a sevens tournament? In a 90-minute show, we could see the championship match, preceded by the finalists' semi- and quarter-final matches, and probably more than 25 tries. On a multi-sports show such as Wide World of Sports we could see highlights of the two semifinal matches before breaking to international log rolling and then return to see the entire final match. Compare that to the attractiveness of the average top-level club 15-a-side match (i.e. think about your next door neighbor's response to the two broadcasts).

    Secondly, however, it may also be telling us that more and more American rugby people may begin, as they get more familiar with it, to cultivate sevens as a serious and major part of their repertoire. They will find, the more they play it and the better they understand it, that it is every bit as legitimate a sport, every bit as worthy to be dedicated to, to take seriously, to cherish and nurture, as fifteens. Furthermore, it may well be that we stand a better chance of succeeding at the international level in sevens than we do in fifteens. Big, fast forwards and quick, fast backs are, after all, more available in the US than experienced half backs that can control the game with their tactical kicking or goal kickers that can put you out of a game with a few 60-yard penalty goals. Why not stop looking at sevens as just a "cute" bastard child of fifteens? USARFU's establishment of the ITT 7s and the national 7s club championship are two major steps in the right direction. But more work needs to be done.

    Think about it. Only a festival game? Today perhaps the answer is yes, but tomorrow...?

    In others, the pangs of jealousy have resulted in a backlash and attempts to find ways to crush the upstart by making sevens a difficult sport to enjoy and nurture, especially at the top level.

    My very first article for Rugby, entitled "Only a festival game," written in 1985 and extolling the virtues of sevens as a serious game, was a response to the detractors of sevens, and the sentiments I spoke to then remain as valid now as they were then.

    Although the USARFU has certainly done more for sevens than most rugby-playing nations, there are still many within the US that do not share my sentiments. Among the American rugby players that participate in sevens, however, there is a deep respect for the game, a game that many traditionalists don't seem to appreciate.

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