Will 7s surpass XVs?
August 16, 2012
The Hong Kong Sevens is one of the great rugby events © Getty Images
Welcome to the latest edition of Tackling Rugby - our regular feature that will debate the key issues in the game.
With the countdown now well and truly on to the sport's return to the Olympics with Rugby Sevens set to grace the 2016 Games in Rio - we ask whether the shortened form of the game will ever rival XVs in terms of profile and popularity?
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ESPNscrum assistant editor Tom Hamilton argues Sevens is going places:
It is an exciting time to be involved in the sport of Sevens. There is no doubt that the short-form of the game is increasing in appeal and support with it now truly achieving a global reach. The HSBC Sevens World Series will soon venture to Argentina - maybe a little later than originally planned - meaning that it now visits Oceania, Asia, Europe, Africa and both North and South America in the space of a single season.
Last season's Las Vegas leg of the Series was broadcast to a reach of 220m homes in over 110 countries. And with the Olympics lying four years away in Rio de Janeiro, the sport will be propelled onto the worldwide scene like never before. Sevens will take its bow in Brazil so expect the carnival atmosphere that has served it so well in the past to be replicated in the Cidade Maravilhosa.
Imagine the party atmosphere of the Hong Kong leg of the tour, but on a much bigger scale. That specific weekend of the Sevens Series usually sells out in a matter of minutes and is widely regarded as one of the most unique rugby occasions the game and indeed world has to offer - one of its greatest adverts in any form.
On the field, the likes of Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand and Team GB will compete for the title with some of the world's best players on show. The presence of rugby superstars coupled with the relentless action will give it worldwide appeal.
In regards to practicality, the action on the field is also easier on the eye to the first-time rugby viewer with the game played over seven minute halves and the absence of confusing laws. Supporters of the XV form of the game will pin their flag to the drama, or the tradition when arguing that it will always remain the bigger brother over Sevens, but you could argue that the short-form of the sport is a more accurate reflection of the action seen on the field.
In last season's Sevens Series, the team that scored the most tries won 88% of the time with 44% of the tries in the tournament coming from the side's own half. With an average of just 2.4 kicks per game, that statistic puts to bed any threat of the 'aerial ping pong' that is ruining the XV form of the sport.
Following the recent Olympics, it proved once and for all that no other tournament or competition in world sport can hold a candle to it in terms of enjoyment, media attention or sponsorship revenue.
Sevens will now be a part of it.
Take the dressage-effect felt from the recent global gathering. An audience of 4m people tuned in to watch Team GB take the gold medal back on August 7, who would have predicted that before the start? Sevens could well have the same effect with those who have never seen the sport before. As long as the HSBC Sevens World Series continues to take in the far-reaching parts of the world, the same breath-taking brand of rugby continues to be churned out and the crowds keep on flocking to the stadia then Sevens will just get bigger and bigger.
ESPNscrum senior editor Graham Jenkins argues XVs will always be No.1:
I like Sevens as much as the next man. It is entertaining and at times thrilling. A day out at venues like Hong Kong, Wellington or Twickenham is a feast for the senses but more often than not you feel the occasion is more about the party and the fancy dress than it is about the action. That is no bad thing. The colour and razzmatazz is a welcome part of the global rugby calendar but let's not get carried away in believing it will replace the traditional XVs in our affections.
Here's another one to ponder. What's the most memorable Sevens game you have ever seen? Thought so. You can't remember a specific one can you? The rapid-fire nature of the format - 7 minutes each way extended to 10 for title deciders - may mean it is easily digested but also means your memory of them is equally fleeting. The Sevens game is never going to throw up an epic clash to rival the All Blacks' 39-35 victory over Australia in Sydney in 2000 or Leinster's stunning Heineken Cup triumph over Northampton.
You cannot deny Sevens' global reach and Olympic funding is sure to open more doors. It has certainly come a long way since its origins in Melrose way back in 1883 - but let's not forget XVs can trace its roots back even further and the short-form of the game has been playing catch-up ever since. Sevens may also be able to boast on over a century of history but only in the last decade or so has it really found its feet and it cannot rival XVs when it comes to tradition. Intense rivalries - including the oldest of them all between England and Scotland that dates back to the first international in 1881 - show no signs of relenting. It is a catalogue drama that Sevens can only dream of.
The HSBC Sevens Series may be making big gains on all fronts but cannot bring the country to a halt like a Six Nations match day when the sport transcends its usual boundaries. Only such events can have fans, and even the general public, talking weeks before and after the game itself, wallowing in the history of the match-ups and plotting their own success within fantasy forums. The complexity of the game - including a mis-firing scrum as opposed to the equally-laughable set-piece in Sevens - only adds fuel to the debate.
And not even a Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament can mobilise the masses that trek around the globe for the XVs equivalent of a British & Irish Lions tour. One day maybe, but not even Olympic inclusion is going to prompt that kind of loyal following in the near future.
One of rugby's trump cards, especially in this particular argument, is that it remains a sport for all shapes and sizes. Short, tall, fat, thin - there is a place for you in XVs and that boosts its appeal at all levels of the game. In contrast, Sevens demands one facet over every other - speed. Unless you have got gas then don't bother. By all means keep fit with the occasional game of touch on a shortened pitch but don't tell me Sevens will have the masses enthralled from grassroots to the elite game.
Sevens certainly has its merits, but it's a sideshow to the XVs game and looks destined to remain so for the foreseeable future.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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