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

Sevens around the World

Until recently, one would have had a hard time figuring out where to go for expert advice on the playing of sevens.

Melrose and Middlesex were well established, and presumably one would consult with regular winners at these tournaments.

Nevertheless, it was hard to know whether their techniques were any better than those employed by other sevens' teams from other parts of the globe, few and far between as they were, and as little as they interacted.

The Hong Kong Sevens have changed all that. The years 1976- 1990 have been marked by the expansion, not only of the game of sevens, but also of ideas about the game and how to play it.

Certainly one wishing to explore elements of the game of sevens by interviewing the experts would still want to go to the Scottish Borders, sevens' cradle, and to Middlesex, where sevens began to mature.

But it is also clear, 15 years after Hong Kong revolutionized sevens, that one cannot claim to have spoken to the experts of sevens rugby without having included the Fijians, the Australians, and the New Zealanders.

Among them, these three nations (or, in the early years their representatives) have won all but one of the 15 Hong Kong Sevens. In addition, their presence is being felt at the club level, as well: in the 100th playing of the Melrose Sevens (1990), Australia's Randwick topped a field that included all the top Scottish teams as well as the perennial Middlesex champion Harlequins. Even Randwick, however, and its New Zealand counterpart clubs such as Auckland Marist, perennially get thumped in club sevens tournaments in Fiji.

Smaller nations that have not made any impact on the fifteens scene also have left their mark on the sevens' world: the Hong Kong team itself, for example, made it to the Cup round in 1989 and won the Plate in 1990. Recently,

the US has defeated Wales (1989) and Argentina (1988,1990), feats it has never achieved in fifteens.

Thus the chapters that follow will represent views from around the world; my sources will be discussed below.

Styles of Play

Despite all the innovations that have take place in the game of sevens during the last 15/20 years, the basics styles of play remain pretty much those described by Mike Williams in his 1975 book: the "bodily contact style," the "possession style," an "all-action style," and styles that combine elements of these three basic styles.

Of the first, Williams writes:

The bodily contact style . . . depends on winning possession and then using that possession to test out your opposite number at every opportunity to find out his weaknesses. It is a style committed to physical contact and aggression. It produces very direct rugby with plenty of tackling and mauling and is more akin to rugby league than it is to the style of sevens known at Twickenham. . . . This style must be seen as the original sevens style

This style remains, as it probably has since 1883, the preferred style of play in the Scottish Borders. It has also received new-found respect in recent years, having been adopted and espoused by the All-Blacks in the mid-1980s.

The London Scottish of the 1960s were considered the pioneers of the "possession style," and Williams quotes their leader, Iain Laughland:

"The first [rule] is that you must get the ball. . . . The second rule is that when one of your side is in possession there must be another player within five yards of him. That's irrespective of the tactical situation or the position on the field."

The "possession style" in its purest sense often results in slow paced games in which the team in possession refuses to challenge the opponents until its passing patterns have caused a defensive mistake. Only at that point -- and if they're virtually assured that they will be able to penetrate or overlap the defense, will they attack. Other descriptions of this style: "keep-away" and "cat and mouse."

The possession style continues to be what people think about when they think of sevens: a "keep-away" game in which going backwards is no sin. This style remains the favorite of most London teams, as well as 5-time Hong Kong champion Australia.

The "all-action style," which Williams associates with the Loughborough Colleges teams of the 1960s, involves

a storming all-action game, with the ball being won, retained and run at the opposition all through. The players rely on their superior fitness to beat their opponents.

At the international level today perhaps the national teams of Samoa and Tonga -- and to a lesser extent, Fiji, who has mastered some of the elements of the possession style -- best exemplify this "throw care to the wind" style of play.

In fact, because of the abandonment of the "keep-away" mentality, the "all-action" game turns very easily into a bodily contact style. Thus Chris Bass in his 1981 book preferred to characterize sevens into two, rather than three basic styles:

The fast, aggressive, direct, "cut and thrust" approach (bodily contact and all-action) . . . and the "cat and mouse" style.

If we think in American basketball terms, we can liken the first to wide-open Loyola/Marymount, or even UNLV, basketball, and the second to the controlled Princeton style.

In the end, although we can define and refine the way we describe these styles, we are really talking about tendencies; in fact, virtually all teams utilize a combination of the styles described above, with more or less weight being given to each component depending on the team's overall tendencies.

Australia's John Maxwell is among those that feels that it's unwise to be wedded to any one style:

I don't think you can play a textbook way; that's why you've got to have players that can adapt to what's going on, what they should do.

That's one of the great pluses of our club [Randwick]; we can vary our game in terms of the team we're playing.

National Tendencies

The following is a brief synopsis of the predominant tendencies of teams from some of the major sevens regions of the world, in both the Northern and Southern hemisphere.

Elements of the Game

When people speak of styles and tendencies, they normally refer to how teams deal with possession, and that is what has been discussed above. The game, of course is composed of many elements, defensive as well as attacking, and of course, situations where possession itself is the issue.

The chapters that follow will deal with the game from the perspective of the following situations: