Save Our Sevens?

Seven into 15 doesn’t go
Alan Greenwood

Full disclosure – I’d quite like Scotland to keep its international sevens team. The World Series is entertaining and it’s good to see us represented. This season we’ve been doing pretty well, too. At a time when the stock of our international XV is low, it’s comforting to have a degree of success in the version of the game which Scotland gave the world.

More importantly, I don’t want a group of decent, honest pros to lose their jobs. They’ve been treated shabbily by a director of rugby who, according to reports, doesn’t even know who they are.

However, nobody has set out a case for re-examining the role of sevens in Scottish professional rugby. Someone should play devil’s advocate. So here goes…

What is the purpose of Scotland’s sevens squad? Is playing in the World Series an end in itself, or part of a bigger programme to develop players for the professional fifteen man game?

If it’s the former, then what does it get us? Excepting the two days of the Glasgow 7s, or special events such as the Commonwealth Games, Scottish media coverage of sevens is thin, to say the least. If you’re reading this blog, you are a man or woman with more than a passing interest in Scottish rugby. Could you tell me, without checking, how we got on in the Las Vegas leg of this season’s series*? Or how we fared in South Africa, or Dubai, or Wellington? It looks like we will be without the Scotstoun event next year. Terrible news, but it also raises an awkward question; how relevant will sevens be to Scottish rugby fans without the home tournament? How does that translate into increasing participation and audiences for the sport in this country?

If the sevens is a crucial stage for elite player development then does the record over the past few years bear scrutiny? The average age of the 12 man squad at the Glasgow 7s was just over 26. The average age of the Scotland XV which started our last Six Nations match against Ireland was just under 26, which does little to support the notion of sevens as a gateway for youngsters.

Sevens, by its nature, does not help develop big forwards. We struggle to produce powerful front row forwards, maul-busting locks or ball carrying back rows like Josh Strauss or David Denton. Sevens does nothing to address these issues. A third pro-team would. Of course a new franchise would cost much more than the World Series squad, but if the money spent on sevens was needed to go towards funding this third side, would you approve of re-allocating the cash? It’s a tough question to answer.

I’ll start as I finished. I don’t particularly want the sevens to disappear. I don’t want people to lose their jobs. But, for the sake of Scottish rugby, the case for allocating resources elsewhere should be set out.

*We lost to Argentina in the Bowl semi-final.

Let’s Keep The Sevens Squad
Rory Baldwin

It’s generally agreed that Scotland in general and the SRU in particular have been largely piss-poor at navigating the muddy waters of professionalism in rugby since the game turned pro in the mid to late 90s. However in the formative years of all forms of rugby, Scotland has had a proud role in the sport’s inception and development – hosting the first International, for example.

Nowhere is this more true than where Ned Haig and his pals invented the shorter form in 1883, in the Scottish Borders. There wasn’t even a sevens tournament outside Scotland until almost 30 years later in 1921; sevens is undoubtedly part of our rugby heritage. What little counter-attacking flair Scottish rugby has ever had, most of it has come from Borders players schooled in the increased space and speed of sevens.

In short, Scotland is the birthplace and the proud parent of rugby sevens. It may have grown up and left home for a gap year in France, Dubai and Hong Kong – but that doesn’t mean we should stop loving it. Can you imagine England no longer fielding a 20/20 side because they’ve become rubbish at cricket?

The IRB Sevens World Tour environment is a valuable breeding ground for professionalism and gives an extra outlet for Scottish players to experience playing in front of large crowds with tournament pressure and often up against players more skilful than they are, let’s face it.

Sevens does also improve players even in short doses – Mark Bennett, Stuart Hogg and Richie Vernon all came back better from their time in the Sevens squad last year. Hogg was on the verge of losing his spot at Glasgow, out of sorts and drifting. Following a spell in the squad including the cauldron of Ibrox in the Commonwealth games, he came back on fire during the Six Nations.

Perhaps it is easier to turn a group of players into a team when the numbers are halved and there is less separation of skillsets? Perhaps it is easier to remind players why they love the game when there are not endless scrums, endless kicking and they have plenty of time with the ball in hand?

We can produce specialist Sevens players. Think of Colin Gregor, record points scorer. Andy Turnbull is another notable example, respected on the World Sevens circuit for his sheer pace. Guys who are undeniably talented but may not find a route into the brutally physical full game that we see today. Should we ask them to turn their back on the game for ever because rugby has become a sport no longer “for all shapes and sizes”? These days it’s a game for a midget, 2 tall guys and 12 back rowers.

These days Shane Williams would be playing sevens.

Status as an Olympic sport means that Sevens could end up being more valuable than the XVs game in the long term, in terms of funding availability, youth participation or even audience.

What the SRU has to decide, is it a slave to the fifteen man game or does it want to provide some resource to keep pace with the shorter form of the game?

Rugby Sevens is rapidly evolving as a global sport, and once again Scotland is in danger of being left behind.

– – –

In case you want to get involved, here’s a link to the petition to the SRU asking for the Sevens squad to be retained: https://www.change.org/p/scottish-rugby-union-save-our-sevens-squad

Which side do you fall on?

Created using the combined powers of the Scottish Rugby Blog team.

25 comments on “Save Our Sevens?

  1. Bulldog on

    How much is the cost per annum ? If 7’s had its own Profit and Loss account would it be sustainable?

    What are the outgoings and what is the income? Lets start with that before we get into the merits of supporting a game that only puts 7 men on the pitch.

    • Ruairidh Campbell on

      There are reports that it costs up to £1 million to run each year. However, as Iain Morrison reported in the Scotsman, the figures don’t seem to add up as World Rugby pay for the flights, hotels etc. for each tournament. 7s players are also on relatively low salaries of less than £30,000 meaning that player wages will probably not be over £400,000. The number of support staff they have is limited so therefore, the proposed £1 million cost remains to be unexplained. The SRU seem to be using the loss of the Glasgow tournament as an excuse for having to cut the 7s team but remember, the likes of Kenya, Argentina and Canada have been able to run teams fairly easily without hosting a tournament of their own. With 7s growing as it is with the Olympics on the horizon, it would be a terrible move by the SRU to go part-time just when the sport is growing at the rate it is. We will just have to see what happens in the first meeting today…

      • bulldog on

        It was a bit of an unfair question, sorry about that, however one to make you think. From what I hear (a rumour unofficial)£1M does not look at the cost of the 7’s . You are right about the players wages being modest. However lets go back to the Profit and loss account.

        What do we know about the income ?

        All businesses work on the basis of income , exceeding expenditure to give a profit. What income (£’s) are we getting from the 7’s?

        I do not know the answer to that one , but I can assure you it will need to be substantial to break even let alone turn a profit.

        On this basis it makes no financial sense to keep 7’s. So if we keep them, why ? and more importantly , how will we fund the gap,from where and could that money be better used elsewhere in the meantime. Yes in the meantime is not forever.

        One other thing about business , is that you need to invest wisely. by investing elsewhere we may get a much better return on investment to fund the re-entry to 7’s when the time is right.

        That said , I do not see Scotland ever being the force in 7’s that it has and could be again, in 15’s. It is a different game and new entrants such as the African nations with powerful runners and handling skills honed in dry conditions are tipped to emerge in the upper quartile in 7’s .It does not feel like a good investment to me and we may well be left behind anyway when the world catches onto the fast moving, less complex version of rugby.

  2. Michael on

    Going into next year we could end up seeing a worldwide stage taking up Sevens for the first time (Olympics) and Scotland having thrown their toys out the pram and given up on the most exciting form of the game. Sevens is clearly the path to which rugby is going to grow worldwide, we have seen over 3 decades the full form game struggle to break into new markets. They have only managed significant inroads into a few new countries but it is still a small participation sport outside Six Nations / Pacific Nations / Tri-Nations sides.
    It is clear that the IRB Sevens circuit is the most involving of all forms of rugby worldwide, just look at the turnouts at the IRB events, people come in their droves for the party atmosphere and exciting, fast paced rugby.
    To lose this and to turn our backs on this would be not only a travesty but would besmirch Scotland’s reputation as a player on the international rugby stage.

  3. Andy on

    We should have capitalised on the overwhelming success of Ibrox and expanded the 7’s programme, giving an avenue into Rugby for a whole new generation of kids, from poorer backgrounds, who have previously had no avenue into Rugby, which has been seen as the preserve of the privileged.

    Maybe a year out of the circuit can give Scottish Rugby a chance to re-evaluate how they can make the 7s squad self sustainable and instead of a tiny stadium like Scotstoun (the smallest on the circuit) look to selling out Ibrox again for two days.

    • Ruairidh Campbell on

      The problem is that a “year out” is quite difficult to do. Firstly, if the 7s team was to be completely scrapped, you then have to start up again in European division C for the summer 7s circuit (where Ireland will play this year). After eventually making it back up into division A, only then could you go into the World Series qualifying process which, of course, you have to win to make it back as a full time team. Also, the 7s-contracted players are probably not going to remain with the squad, moving on to different things. In other words, the time and difficulty of taking a “break” from 7s would be a complete waste, especially considering the way 7s is developing right now.

      • FF on

        You are right Ruairidh – it has taken Scotland years to develop a successful squad combining experienced specialists with younger up-and-coming players, a decent coach and a professional set up. That will all be washed away if we ‘sit-out’ a year – it would take years to recover. Not to mention the risk of not being able to because of difficulty in attracting young players to play in low level tournaments with part time pay too low to live off.

        Scotland are about to complete their best ever 7s season. It would be madness to give up a currently successful rugby program after years of failure at other levels.

  4. FF on

    I don’t think 7s really benefits the 15s game but it is a good form to get young players into the sport, like touch and tag. Scotland have had a very successful season and the squad deserve the backing of the SRU.

    The SRU must ensure this decision is transparent. If the squad is cut due to cost they must make the costs clear. I want them to sustain the 7s squad even if that money must come from elsewhere. It is certainly legitimate to question whether savings could be made from senior organisational staff if the sum really is in the region of £500,000 pa.

    However, we have no permanent right to host a leg of the World Series. The Commonwealth games and the recent Glasgow 7s were huge successes but before that the legs we hosted we poorly attended and put to shame by the London leg. We used to hold them at Murrayfield after all but moved to Scotstoun so the stands didn’t look so empty.

  5. Neil on

    My initial though about 6 months ago is that we should not be entering a team in the 7’s series but, the more I have looked into this the more I think that we need one, if for no other reason that to promote/advertise the game in our country. Having watched the tournament at Scotstown, I was really impressed by the efforts of our team. They showed a level of commitment and skill that was sadly missing from the 6 nations this year. I really hope that we can keep this going. I also think it would be a mistake to drop the tournament at Scotstown in favour of a venue in France but what do you except from such a racist organisation as World Rugby.

    • Neil on

      Intersting one. I’ve just watched a famous Scottish victory for Scotland over England at Twickenham. When was the last time that happened- 1983? The fact is that our sevens team are playing brilliantly. Unlike our 15 man squad, the players play with pride passion and skill. They actually want to win. Imagine it- a Scottish team that want to win!!!!!!!! We invented the game and have a really good team and France are rubbish, yet they want to hold a series in France as opposed to Scotland. What upsets me even more is that the SRU want to abolish our 7’s team at a time when our 15 squad is rubbish and our 7s team are showing a lot of promise. I wonder is that common sensical decision was taken by a certain person that I have been told not to mention, though I think you can all guess who it is.
      As for racism, choosing France over Scotland pretty much says it all. I’m so pleased that France have a crap team at both 15 and 7’s level. World Rugby must have egg on their face over that one. They may have top club teams but their international ones are rubbish. I just hope that World rugby can stick that one right up their jerkskies.

  6. aligator on

    Great decision this evening by the Board to keep our National 7’s squad going in the World Series.
    Never a good idea to get off a truck (for good but temporary, short focus reasons) when the truck starts to go in an interesting direction. Lots of examples of this in all walks of life.

  7. aligator on

    Great decision this evening by the Board to keep our National 7’s squad going in the World Series.

    Never a good idea to get off a truck (for good but temporary, short focus reasons) when the truck is starting to go in a possibly interesting direction. Lots of examples of this in all walks of life.

    Instead hang-on for dear life and enjoy the ride, until you see better when you may end up.

    • Allan on

      Great news but wait until the RFU announce that they and they alone are in charge of the Olympic Rio team. You won’t see a scot get near the squad!

      • Neil on

        True, even though Scotland have just beaten England at Twickers. we stuffed them good and proper.

  8. Peter on

    Delighted with the decision but extremely confused that they let it rumble on for months with rumours allowed to fester throughout that must have put the players and staff in difficult positions only to ‘unanimously agree’ to go on.

    As happy as I am, Scotland’s aims within 7s need to be clarified given the complication of GB representation at the Olympics and a general shift away from using 7s as a development tool for 15s by other nations.

    For what it’s worth I think we need to go against that trend. We don’t have a realistic prospect of winning Cup events and I see real benefits for our national 15 a side team.

    – A chance to learn how to represent your country and travel the world in a professional environment
    – A focus on fitness and the attacking flair that we have sorely lacked
    – A much needed alternative development route (within SRU control) to Glasgow or Edinburgh given the limited number of minutes available

    Despite complaints about a lack of clarity earlier, I actually think Scotland 7s is doing a fairly decent job in doing all of the above. For anyone questioning the worth to the 15s side, the following played in a IRB/World Rugby 7s event before making their 15s debuts:

    Mark Bennett, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Adam Ashe, Alex Dunbar, Dave Denton, Richie Vernon, Peter Horne, Lee Jones, Nick De Luca, Hamish Watson, Greg Laidlaw, Alasdair Strokosh, Max Evans and Ruaridh Jackson.

    There may well be others too (I have vague memories of Kelly Brown, but that’s going back a fair bit), and when you consider the numbers who play in non-7s friendly positions in the tight 5 and the project/grandfather players that would also be highly unlikely to play 7s for Scotland I would say that is a more than decent production line.

    Here’s to Colin Gregor and Scott Riddell guiding many more future 15s players through their first taste of pro and international rugby!

    • Barry P on

      As you mention players with a 7s background that feature in international 15s look at the ABs, Boks and England…

      The lists are fairly substantial I mean Dallaglio has 2 RWC winner medals one from 7s and one from 15s!

      And don’t rule out the coaching side of life either, look how many of the England set-up have moved to help at London Scottish and are now coaching different teams at the World Series level. Simon Amor, Mike Friday and Pete Richards immediately spring to mind.

      Did Richie Vernon not make his 7s debut prior to his 15s? And I think his 7s experience has made the transition from back row to centre may be not easier for him to do but easier to understand the thinking behind it.

      Long may Scotland have a 7s side on the World Stage…

      Just not necessarily in Scotland and that is an entirely different story.

  9. Matto on

    I have to admit that at one point I was unsure about the value of maintaining the sevens squad when there were other pressing matters requiring resources. However, as has been made clear, it would not make a whole lot of sense to pull the funding at the very moment in time where we are enjoying our greatest level of success and when the game itself is growing hugely. Whilst the direct impact of 7s on 15s is not entirely clear, the indirect benefits of increasing rugby culture within Scotland that could arise from the ascendance of 7s is worth investing in.
    As for the gap in the numbers. I would guess that the gap in direct and reported costs comes down to ‘indirect costs’ e.g. infrastructure and administrative costs that the SRU attribute to running the 7s squad. Having worked with, or for, institutions I am amazed at how much cash is soaked up by these ‘costs’. Usually about 50%.

  10. Barry P on

    As for the loss of venue that is likely I feel the SRU have no one to blame but themselves (much like the EPRC and their use of Twickenham for this year’s final bearing in mind the “amateur” fixture the weekend later between the British Army and the Royal Navy was played in front 81,116)…

    Don’t get me wrong I have been to Scotstoun for the 7s but it is not easy to get to and the chances of walk up ticket sales was always going to be slim. I know some English fans that booked and went to the 7s when it was at Murrayfield every year and even the year when it was announced mid Series it was moving to Glasgow; as these fans had booked accommodation and travel to Edinburgh that’s where they went and only went to one day instead of both and because of the extra traveling between Edinburgh and Glasgow arrived late and left early.

    Having been to the 7s at Ibrox I don’t think that was set up well, or at least the main stand seemed an utter fiasco with no clear indication where the toilets where, which concession stands were selling what and what was available.

    I think if they had kept the 7s at Murrayfield and embraced the fancy dress theme sooner, tried a few other things (I seem to remember one year at Twickenham instead of music clips over the PA there were a series of live bands on a stage playing the clips live after a score or between games and halves) then we wouldn’t be in the situation we find ourselves in now.

    Unfortunately us as the public not supporting the event cannot complain that World Rugby are going to give another city/country a chance to shine (even if it does rain in Paris).

    Basically just like the General Election if you didn’t vote (by going) you can’t complain about the result.

  11. Neil on

    Come off it Barry, our 7’s team are great and loads of people support the event. Its just that World rugby are a bunch of French lovers. They also love ZN, SA, OZ, England and Wales. Even though we kuffed England this weekend they still love the,. We are just second rate in their eyes and the SRU don’t fight our corner.

  12. Angus on

    Is that a genuine figure that the players are getting under £30k a year? Do they have other income on top of that? The Australian squad are on A$120 – A$150k per year which is £60 – £75k

    • bulldog on

      Thats what was said in here and no one has disputed it.

      Counter questions :

      How much are the Australian Rugby Union making out of 7’s ?

      How much is the SRU making out of 7’s?

      How much is the cost of 7’s to the SRU ?

      What is the average wage for a 20-40 year old male, without a trade or profession in Scotland ?

      • Neil on

        These are questions that i would like answers to as well. However, is 30K a year really that poor a salary to make for trvelling to fancy locations, training 2-3 hours a day and turning out in fo0rn tof screaming fans when you aare only in your 20’s. Things have changed a bit but I would have been more than happy to make that sort of money in my 20’s. The average salary in the UK is arround 26K but is probably arround the 10-15K mark for unskilled workers between the ages of 20 and 40 so, all things considered, I dont think 30K per annum is to be sniffed at for playing rugby 7’s. it wouold only be sniffed at if the other nations are making alot more and I’m not sure that they are. Someone told me recently that top rugby league players in OZ only make arround 30-40K per annum.

  13. bulldog on

    I would like to say that I do not agree that Rugby is no longer a sport for all shapes and sizes. You might be referring to professional rugby as most players in our country are not professionals and most clubs consist of men (and women for that matter) of all shapes and sizes.

    As for professional rugby Shane Williams is listed at a height of 1.7M. Duncan Weir is quoted at 1.72M and Nico Matawalu at 1.73M. So Nico is (according to Wikipedia) just and inch and 3/16ths (3cm’S) taller than Shane Williams. SHC who is our new hopeful is 1.75M.

    I think we might just be pushing it to say he would not get a game in todays 15’s.

  14. Angus on

    Re the costs of the Scotland 7s programme the figures I heard were the SRU put in £1 million and Sport Scotland put in 600k. Whether the 600k is part of the 1 mill or or top I am not sure. As for returns only Hong Kong has prize money with a pool of 150k. Whether world rugby gives anything to the core teams or not I don’t know but I suspect not. It is therefore down to the gaining of sponsorship to fund the programme. Speaking with a source in the Zimbabwe Union they told me if they had beaten Russia to qualify for the circuit it could well have sent the union broke due to potential sponsors not wanting to be seen to be endorsing Mugabe

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