Seven into 15 doesn’t go
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
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.
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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?