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|Highest governing body||World Rugby|
|Nicknames||Sevens, 7s, VIIs,|
|Mixed gender||Separate competitions|
|Type||Outdoor team sport, variant of rugby union|
|World Games||2001 – 2013|
Rugby sevens (commonly known as simply sevens), and originally known as seven-a-side rugby, is a variant of rugby union in which teams are made up of seven players playing seven minute halves, instead of the usual 15 players playing 40 minute halves. Rugby sevens is administered by World Rugby, the body responsible for rugby union worldwide. The game is popular at all levels, with amateur and club tournaments generally held in the summer months. Sevens is one of the most well distributed forms of rugby, and is popular in parts of Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, and especially in the South Pacific.
Rugby sevens originated in Melrose, Scotland in the 1880s; the Melrose Sevens tournament is still played annually. The popularity of rugby sevens increased further with the development of the Hong Kong Sevens in the 1970s and was later followed by the inclusion of the sport into the Commonwealth Games for the first time in 1998 and the establishment of the annual World Rugby Sevens Series in 1999 and the World Rugby Women's Sevens Series in 2012. In 2016, rugby sevens was contested in the Summer Olympics for the first time. It has also been played in regional events such as the Pan American Games and the Asian Games, and in 2018 a women's tournament was played for the first time at the Commonwealth Games.
Rugby sevens is sanctioned by World Rugby, and is played under similar laws (with exceptions noted below) and on a field of the same dimensions as the 15 player game. While a regular rugby union match lasts at least 80 minutes, a normal sevens match consists of two halves of seven minutes with a two-minute half-time break. The final of a competition can be played over two halves of ten minutes each. (In the World Rugby Sevens Series, only the Cup final, which determines the overall winner of an event, is played with 10 minute halves; all finals for lower-level trophies are played with 7 minute halves.) Sevens scores are generally comparable to regular rugby scores, but scoring occurs much more frequently in sevens, since the defenders are more spaced out. The scoring system is the same as regular rugby union, namely five points for a try, three points for a drop goal (whether from penalty or open play) and two points for a post-try conversion.
The shorter match length allows rugby sevens tournaments to be completed in a day or a weekend. Many sevens tournaments have a competition for a cup, a plate, a bowl, and a shield, allowing many teams of different standards to avoid leaving empty-handed.
Sevens tournaments are traditionally known for having more of a relaxed atmosphere than fifteen-a-side games, and are often known as "festivals". Sevens tournaments gained their "popularity as an end of season diversion from the dourer and sterner stuff that provides the bulk of a normal season's watching." Fans frequently attend in fancy dress, and entertainment is put on for them.
The Hong Kong Sevens tournament has been especially important in popularising the game in Asia, and rugby sevens has been important as a form of international rugby "evangelism", hence is perhaps the most widely played form of the game, with tournaments in places as far apart as Bogota and Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Kenya, Singapore and Scandinavia, as well as the countries in which rugby union is well known.
Sevens is played on a standard rugby union playing field. The field measures up to 100 metres (330 ft) long and 70 metres (230 ft) wide. On each goal line are H-shaped goal posts. The goal posts are on the goal line. This is unlike American football in which the posts are behind the back of the goal line.
There are several variations in laws which apply to rugby sevens, primarily to speed up the game and to account for the reduced number of players. The main changes can be summarised as follows:
Teams are composed of seven players — three forwards and four backs. Scrums are made up of three players from each team. The chart below shows a team's typical formation at scrum time, with three forwards bound into the scrum, a scrum-half waiting to retrieve the ball once it exits the scrum, and three backs positioned to receive a pass. The numbers shown here are for illustrative purposes only. Unlike rugby fifteens, where a player's number corresponds to his position, numbering in rugby sevens is more flexible. In a squad of twelve players, the players will be numbered one through twelve. The starting players can have any of the twelve numbers, not necessarily one through sevens. No set numbers differentiate positions; for example, numbers one through three are not reserved for forwards, but can be worn by any squad player.
In open play, a typical defensive formation involves a line of six defenders, with one sweeper behind the line. With the attacking team using all seven players against the defending team's six in the line, the attacking team often attempts to move the ball to create an overload. The defensive line can be put under pressure if the defending team makes a tackle and commits players to the ruck; with fewer players in the defending line, it leaves more space for the attacking team to exploit.
Rugby sevens tends to be played at a faster pace than rugby fifteens. Because of the faster nature of the game, sevens players are often backs or loose forwards in fifteens rugby. The differences are most notable on game restarts. Because scrums in sevens involve three players forming one row instead of eight players forming three rows, scrums tend to assemble more quickly, require fewer restarts, and the ball exits the scrum more quickly. Penalties in sevens are generally taken with a quick tap, instead of a kick for touch and a line out, resulting in the ball being put back in play more quickly. When a player is tackled and a ruck is formed, the ball tends to exit the ruck more quickly, as the attacking team generally has only three players involved in the ruck — the tackled player, one support player, and one scrum-half.
Rugby sevens was initially conceived in 1883 by Ned Haig and David Sanderson, who were butchers from Melrose, Scotland as a fund-raising event for their local club, Melrose RFC. The first-ever sevens match was played at The Greenyards, the Melrose ground, where it was well received. Two years later, Tynedale was the first non-Scottish club to win one of the Borders Sevens titles at Gala in 1885.
Despite sevens' popularity in the Borders, it did not catch on elsewhere until the 1920s and 1930s. The first international tournament outside Scotland was held in 1921 in north east England at the Percy Park RFC Sevens in North Shields. Because it was near to the Scottish Borders, it attracted interest from the code's birthplace, and the final was contested between Selkirk (who won) and Melrose (who were runners up). The same year, the Buenos Aires Football Club hosted a rugby sevens tournament in Argentina.
In 1926, England's major tournament, the Middlesex Sevens was set up by Dr J.A. Russell-Cargill, a London-based Scot. One of the key events in the spread of sevens to England was the Middlesex Sevens, which had some formidable figures on its sub-committee such as Wavell Wakefield and Bill Ramsay. The Middlesex Sevens were also a great fundraiser for charity, and in 1926, they raised £1,600 for King Edward VII Hospital, at a time when standard admission was a shilling, and stand seats cost five shillings.
A 1927 description of the game at the Middlesex Sevens (also for King Edward Hospital) gives an idea of the novelty of the game to English people:
Whereas the Scottish Borders were a rural area, the Middlesex Sevens were near the suburbs of London, which was home to millions. 10,000 spectators attended the second Middlesex tournament. While the Border Sevens had honed the skills of players in the Scottish rugby heartland, the Middlesex Sevens did likewise for London rugby, with locally based players such as the aforementioned Wavell Wakefield, Carl Aarvold (later Recorder of the City of London) of Blackheath FC, Wick Powell of London Welsh RFC, and John Tallent, who would later become chairman of the Four Home Unions Tours Committee. They rubbed shoulders with various invitation sides such as Sale RFC in 1936, which included such players as Wilf Wooller and Claude Davey of Wales and Ken Fyfe of Scotland amongst their backs; and in 1939, Cardiff RFC, which included players such as Wilf Wooller again, and Les Spence and Wendy Davis.
The first-ever officially sanctioned tournament for national teams was the 1973 International Seven-A-Side Tournament held at Murrayfield as part of the "Scottish Rugby Union's Celebration of Rugby" centenary celebrations.
Due to the success of the format, the Hong Kong Sevens tournament was launched in 1976.
The Scottish connection continued in the establishment of the Hong Kong Sevens in the 1970s, founded largely by expats such as "Tokkie" Smith, and in England, London Scottish RFC was strongly involved in the Middlesex Sevens from the start. The Hong Kong Sevens were ahead of their time and an influential force in the modernisation of rugby union. For example, the Hong Kong Sevens were one of the first rugby union tournaments to attract major sponsorship when the airline Cathay Pacific sponsored the 1976 tournament. They also provided a level of cosmopolitan international competition, which tended not to exist in rugby before the first Rugby World Cup in 1987, especially since Hong Kong was not seen as one of the "Big Eight". By 1986, the Hong Kong Sevens were held up as a positive example to others, although many of the smaller nations' teams were largely made up of expatriates.
The Rugby World Cup Sevens, in which the Melrose Cup is contested, was launched in 1993.
Rugby sevens continues to be popular in the Scottish Borders, where the ten most prestigious tournaments make up a league competition known as the "Radio Borders Kings of the Sevens". In honour of the role of Melrose RFC in the creation of rugby sevens, the club was inducted, along with Haig, to the IRB Hall of Fame in 2008.
Sevens has also taken strong root in the Pacific island nations of Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa, as well as in Kenya. In many minor rugby nations, such as in Poland, development has tended to concentrate on rugby sevens as a means of introducing the sport to people. Rugby sevens has become popular in places such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai, which are not so successful in the fifteen-a-side code. In addition, seven of the 15 current "core teams" that compete in all legs of the World Series represent nations that are not within the recognised top tier of the 15-man game — Fiji, Samoa, Kenya, the United States, Canada, Portugal, and Japan. Recently there has been the introduction of many new teams to the sevens circuit such as Ireland, Russia, and Germany.
The World Series has been held every season since the 1999–2000 inaugural season. Each season the Sevens Series holds from seven to eleven tournaments, from around October and concluding around June. Most tournaments see 16 teams competing — mostly "core teams" that participate in each event, but also some teams that win the right to participate in select events.
New Zealand has been the dominant force in the Sevens Series, winning 12 out of the 18 seasons, including the first six seasons from 1999–2000 to 2004–05. In recent years, however, several other teams have challenged New Zealand's dominance. Fiji won the Series in 2005–06 and again in 2014–15 and 2015–16; South Africa won in 2008–09 and 2016–17; and Samoa claimed the 2009–10 crown. Other strong contenders include England and Australia, each of whom have had several top four finishes in recent seasons. The 2015 London Sevens, saw the United States win their first-ever tournament in the World Series.
Notable World Series players include England's Dan Norton, who has scored more tries (>230) than any other player; and England's Ben Gollings, who has scored more points (2,652) than any other player.
The Rugby Women's Sevens Series has been held every season since the 2012-13 inaugural season. Each season the Sevens Series holds from five to six tournaments, usually starting around November and concluding around June. Most tournaments see 12 teams competing — mostly "core teams" that participate in each event, but also some teams that win the right to participate in select events.
New Zealand have been the most dominant team in the series since its establishment by winning four of the six competitions held up to and including 2018.
The International Olympic Committee voted in 2009 to include rugby sevens on the program for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There were two open spots for sports and initially seven sports began the bidding for inclusion in the 2016 program. The event debuted in an Olympic program at the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics.
Two issues related to differences between the structures of rugby union and the Olympics were sorted out before the 2016 Olympic Games. The issue of a combined British team has proven less of a problem in rugby union. World Rugby chief executive Mike Miller endorsed the concept of a combined British sevens team in 2011 for the 2016 Olympics and beyond. Another issue is the status of Northern Ireland. World Rugby recognises the Irish Rugby Football Union as the sport's governing body for the entire island of Ireland. By contrast, the International Olympic Committee recognises the British Olympic Association as the governing body of the UK Olympic team, while the Olympic Council of Ireland usually fields teams representing all of Ireland in sports which are organised on an all-Ireland basis. Northern Irish sevens players play for the Irish team.
In the men's competition Fiji won the gold medal in the sport's Olympic debut, with Great Britain taking the silver and South Africa the bronze. The women's gold medal was won by Australia, with New Zealand taking silver and Canada bronze.
The Rugby World Cup Sevens is held every four years and is the premier international rugby sevens tournament outside of the Olympic Games. The first tournament was held at Murrayfield in 1993 with England becoming the first team to win the event. Fiji and New Zealand are the most successful, having each won two out of the six World Cups. In the men’s competition teams compete for the Melrose Cup and in the women’s competition, launched in 2009, teams compete for the Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens Trophy.
Rugby sevens has been played at each of the Commonwealth Games every four years since its first appearance at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and was the first major international multisports event to include the sport. Rugby sevens is a "Core" sport by the Commonwealth Games Federation, necessitating its appearance at all future games. The New Zealand team has won the gold medal four times with South Africa winning the tournament at Glasgow 2014 beating the defending champions in the final. Through the 2014 Games in Glasgow, it was the last remaining male-only sport at the Commonwealth Games, after women's boxing was added for those Games. Women's sevens made its Commonwealth Games debut in the 2018 Games. The New Zealand teams won the gold medal in both the men's and women's competitions.
Rugby sevens is played at various regional multi-sport competitions, including the Asian Games and the Pacific Games. Rugby union was formerly played at the World Games, but this has ceased as rugby is now an Olympic sport.
Men's rugby sevens at the Pan American Games has been held every four years since the 2011 Pan American Games, with Canada, Argentina, and the United States placing for medals each time. Women's rugby sevens was later added to the program for the 2015 Pan American Games.
The Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series serves as a regional qualifier for two types of tournaments. The top two finishing teams each year who are not core members of the World Rugby Sevens Series advance to the Hong Kong Sevens, the qualifying tournament for teams vying to achieve core team status in the World Rugby Sevens Series. The Europe Grand Prix also serves as a regional qualifier for major quadrennial tournaments, such as the summer Olympics and the Rugby World Cup Sevens.
In Europe, Portugal dominated in sevens during the Championship era (2002–10); only twice the team did not win the trophy, in 2007 and 2009, when both times the championships were won by Russia. In the Grand Prix Series era from 2011 to the present, the champions became England and France; both teams won the trophy twice in a row. Portugal won the first edition, while Russia is the current champion.
Women's rugby sevens has been dominated by New Zealand, with either the New Zealand team (1999–2001) or Aotearoa Maori Women's Rugby sevens team (playing as New Zealand), winning the annual Hong Kong Sevens tournament from 1997 until 2007. The United States won the Hong Kong Sevens in 2008 by defeating Canada in the final (New Zealand failed to send a team).
The inaugural Women's Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament took place in Dubai together with the men's tournament during the first weekend of March 2009. England defeated Canada 12–0 in the Bowl final while Australia edged New Zealand 15–10 in extra-time to become the first to win the Women's Rugby World Cup.
WR, then known as the International Rugby Board (IRB), organised its first official women's sevens tournament outside of the World Cup as part of the 2011 Dubai Sevens. This was part of a plan to launch a full IRB International Women's Sevens Series for 2012–13. The international series was officially christened as the IRB Women's Sevens World Series in an IRB announcement on 4 October 2012. The series, as planned, launched for the 2012–13 season and initially featured events in Dubai, the USA, China and the Netherlands. Two additional events were planned for the 2013–14 series, but in the end only one of these events, in Brazil, took place. For the 2014–15 series, China dropped from the schedule, while Canada and England hosted new events. The series was rechristened for 2014–15 as the World Rugby Women's Sevens Series, following the November 2014 renaming of the IRB as World Rugby. The 2015–16 series included only five events; the England and Netherlands events were dropped and an event in France was added. The 2016–17 series returned to six events with the launch of an event in Japan.
Women's rugby sevens was included in the 2016 Olympic Games due to the IRB's successful bid to reintroduce rugby to the Summer games. Australia claimed the gold medal for the event, beating New Zealand in the final with a score of 24-17. Canada claimed the bronze medal after beating Great Britain 33-10 in the third place play-off. WR also successfully pushed for the inclusion of women's sevens in the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
As sevens has proven a commercial and competitive success, sevens is starting to become divorced from the 15-man game. Former Wales rugby union player and current pundit John Taylor writes in 2010, stating:
|“||[Sevens] is in danger of becoming a totally separate game. Ben Ryan, who coached both the England Sevens and the Fiji Sevens, dismisses the idea that it should be seen mainly as a development tool. A few years ago players would spend a year or two with the Sevens squad to improve their running and passing skills. Many international players refined their game on the Sevens circuit including all-time greats such as Jonah Lomu.
That is happening less and less. Players have to make a choice: Do they want to concentrate on Sevens or 15s? The techniques and training required are becoming very different. Modern professional players are already pretty lean but the forwards in 15-a-side do need bulk as well. In Sevens that is not required and new training regimes are making body fat levels even lower so they are not able to transfer from one game to the other.
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