Rugby 7s World Cup: Will the World Cup Rugby Sevens be good for all rugby in the USA?
If you haven’t heard World Rugby (formerly the International Rugby Board) has selected USA Rugby and San Francisco Bay Area to host the Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2018!
Now this is a big deal and will have a great impact on the game here in the USA. This World Cup Sevens will come on the heals of the 2016 Olympics in Rio which will feature Rugby 7s for the first time.
California and in that matter Northern California are a hotbed for excellent rugby. The 2018 games will be played at the Avaya Stadium in San Jose (which will be hosting two international 15s games this summer) and AT&T Park in the City itself. The pros of having this event greatly outweigh any of the cons. Pat Clifton of Rugby Today wrote a great piece called “If you build it they will come” which breaks that down.
The games will be accessible (as long as the tickets aren’t over priced). We are sure there will be a few nationally televised games, there will be a lot of promotion around it and that can make the USA a focus of international rugby. The resurgence of the USA 7s under Mike Friday has fans coming out to support the Eagles! With their most recent achievement of wining London 7s and finishing 6th over all in the world, people are eager to support the 7s side.
Is there any down side? Maybe? Is this a downer just some concerns with how this can and may impact rugby?
Rugby 7s is very specific in terms of the type of players who can excel in it. Unlike the 15s game which uses every type of player (in terms of size, hight and specific attributes) 7s seeks very fast players whom are predominantly backs. The World Cup 7s will get the game more exposure, but it may not do much for the 15s game (which is more inclusive thus maybe easier to recruit a greater number of kids and new players for) and while it could increase fans, it may leave out a lot of people who may not seek out rugby after viewing it because they aren’t a 7s type of player or athlete. We won't know until after.
That level of rugby 7s has world-class athletes and players, but an athlete with very limited rugby knowledge can play 7s (not at that level) but at the club level, they don’t really have to understand the game vs. a 15s game which is equally a great game and requires greater understanding and specialization. Some of us are just hoping a successful and then the lead up to the World Cup Rugby 7s doesn’t grow the 7s game in the USA while causing the 15s game to fall back to a second priority.
Now let me disclose some bias. This writer is a front rower. So 7s really isn’t a game for some of us.
We need to grow all rugby (both the 7s and the 15s). It seems that in recent years and some of it is based on the push from USA Rugby and the USA Olympic Committee that the focus is on growing and developing the 7s game more than or equally to the 15s. So this is great for rugby in the USA (as long as USA Rugby doesn’t loose sight or treat the 15s game as a secondary priority). We have seen this year alone the impact of having the full support of the USA Rugby Union has helped the 7s side. From the coaching with the likes of Mike Friday, to the behind the scenes work of guys like Alex Magleby, having full support of the union can produce results. We hope the effort into making a successful event and making a good run at hope in an effort to win the WCR7 doesn’t cause the attention to be taken away from the 15s game.
Rio 2016 and the 2018 7s World Cup may be the first or main exposure many Americans will have with rugby and without highlighting the 15s game it could be left out of the main stream American public’s view. Now there is an argument that any publicity is good publicity and hopefully this helps all rugby.
I do recall the last Rugby World Cup Sevens, which was in Russia. It was televised on Universal Sports at the time. I recorded all the games that were televised. I watched a number of them. While Rugby 7s is a very fast, exciting and entertaining game, that was not the case with many of the ones I viewed. There were some county’s 7s side that couldn’t win a U-17s match, or beat some of the 7s club sided in the USA. Some of those counties some of those sides wouldn’t have had a shot against the likes of a Tiger Rugby or a Serevi sides. If that is what a lot of people see in the 2018 proceedings will it engage the non-rugby fan? Or will some side like the All Blacks or Fiji side vs. some county (like North Korea don't know if the even play rugby) be such a mismatch that viewers don’t find it fun? Don’t know. Just posing the questions.
The run by the Eagles 7s side this year has helped put USA 7s on the radar for everyone in the 7s world and here at home their great success has created even more interest. Just hope we don’t forget there is the 15s World Cup coming this fall, four international matches this summer in San Jose and Sacramento, and that the 15s game also needs to be propelled the same way as the 7s. Either way this rugger plans to be there to cheer on the Eagles (and hopefully a number of players from California) in 2018.
We’ll get a take on the World Cup Rugby Sevens coming to the USA from one of the USA’s all time 7s great, Jason Raven.