Rugby Sevens, the abbreviated form of rugby union, is seeking to ride the wave of popularity in the sport generated by the highly successful World Cup in France.
The three-day season-opening Dubai leg of the World Series Sevens circuit, run by world rugby’s governing body, the International Rugby Board (IRB), attracted 32 000 spectators a day, but importantly offered a showcase for many future international stars.
The recently concluded World Cup featured 175 players who gained experience on the Sevens circuit and no less than 10 of the 20 teams were captained by players who graduated from the shortened form of the game.
Agustin Pichot (Argentina), Morgan Williams (Canada), Vasco Uva (Portugal), Semo Sititi (Samoa), Gareth Thomas (Wales) and Mike Hercus (USA) were all the full-time captains of their teams.
And at one stage or another over the course of the tournament, four others — Jean-Baptiste Elissalde (France), Irakli Abuseridze (Georgia), Felipe Contepomi (Argentina) and Corne Powell (Namibia) — also took over captaincy duties.
Given that front-five forwards are not suited to the pace and skill-set levels of Sevens, the figure of World Cup players with Sevens experience equates to almost 50% of the players in the six-week competition.
Outstanding former Sevens players who starred in France also include Argentina’s play-making duo Felipe Contepomi and Juan Martin Hernandez, whose sublime passing and kicking skills were honed on the IRB Sevens circuit.
Veteran New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens, whose side won last weekend’s Dubai tournament — beating Fiji 31-21 in the final — has unearthed a string of players who have starred in the 15-a-side game, notably Christian Cullen, Jonah Lomu and Joe Rokocoko.
Along with Rokocoko, former Sevens stars Nick Evans, Chris Masoe, Rodney So’oialo and Isaia Toeava all appeared for the All Blacks at the World Cup.
Argentina and World Cup newcomers Portugal had 16 players each with Sevens experience, Georgia 15, Fiji 11, Samoa and Scotland 10 apiece, while Japan and the United States both had eight players.
”A lot of the best players from sides such as Portugal have honed their skills by playing Sevens against top performers from around the world,” Australia flyhalf Stephen Larkham said.
”Many of those skills transfer over to the 15-man game,” he said, noting that his team’s leading try scorer and point scorer at RWC 2007, Drew Mitchell, and Matt Giteau, were both veterans of the Sevens circuit.
One coach convinced that skills are highly transferable is Wales’ newly appointed chief Warren Gatland, the highly respected former Ireland, Wasps and Waikato handler.
”You can see how it develops players,” Gatland said in Dubai. ”Wales have already had a couple of players coming through the Sevens system, most notably James Hook.
”Over the years New Zealand have developed Super 14 players from Sevens. And recent statistics show 175 players from the Rugby World Cup played on the IRB Sevens circuit.
”There are a lot of positives and benefits from Sevens so it’s something we need to embrace and make sure we’re doing the right things with the Sevens programme.” — Sapa-AFP