Mortlock: Is Sevens the missing link?

Stirling Mortlock
by Stirling Mortlock

Sevens holds the key to the future of rugby. The shorter, more spectator-friendly version of the game is a fantastic vehicle to promote the game and give more nations and fans access to it.

It’s played at a frenetic pace with an average of just under six tries per game through the men’s World Series and five in the women’s competition.

Sevens provides an opportunity for second tier nations to be more competitive, with a version of the game that requires a different emphasis to 15s.

In the first tournament held at the new Singapore National Stadium, 27,053 attended the second day and Kenya took out the Cup final 30-7 over Fiji, the first title in their history.

Kenya ChampionsThe inaugural Sydney Sevens draw 73,313 people across two days earlier this year, so there’s obviously an appetite for the game.

The other thing about Sevens is it has the potential to solve the hotly debated issue around the skill gap that has shown up in Super Rugby

You’ve got just three forwards so there's less need for complex set piece and breakdown work and more focus on the basic but critical skills in the game.

In the swirling discussions around the gulf in skills between Australia and New Zealand Super Rugby sides, it seems our Sevens graduates all possess fantastic core skills.

Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps and Sean McMahon were all part of the Sevens set up and now they’re in the Wallabies fold, all playing important roles in last year’s World Cup.

There’s a pretty direct correlation between that early experience in a game that focuses on core skills and that success.

McMahon was the youngest Australian Sevens representative of all time and is in devastating form for the Rebels.

McMahon playing Sevens in 2011.

He made the step up to the World Cup with ease as well, turning out two man-of-the-match performances from three 2015 Tests.

Plenty of others have gone before them, including Matt Giteau and earlier than that players like George Gregan and Joe Roff.

There’s no doubt that a Sevens stint helped make these guys some of the most skilful of their time.

The most powerful aspect of Sevens, though, is its diversity, not just of geography but of gender.

Australian women’s sevens participation grew by 33 per cent in 2015 and our professional women’s side has one hand on the World Series trophy heading into the final tournament in Clermont-Ferrard.

Australian rugby, and indeed rugby across the board, needs to jump on the Sevens band wagon and continue to explore the possibilities.

Why not try and start up a domestic sevens league, mirroring the phenomenon that the Big Bash has become in cricket?

Sevens has the unique chance to change the audience for rugby at all levels and if anything can do that, we should be holding on to it wholeheartedly.

The difficulty would be working out how to fit it in an already hectic schedule but it would be a worthwhile exercise if it can have even a sliver of the success of the BBL.

That it is now an Olympic sport makes it more legitimate than ever and the continual growth of Sevens is something from which everyone in rugby can benefit.

Stirling Mortlock AM, Captain the Brumbies, Rebels and Wallabies scoring 1031 Super Rugby points and 489 Test points.

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.

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