Ex-Gloucester player Tim Lacey is the founder of Ultimate Rugby Sevens, and he was good enough to speak to The Rugby Blog about the Sevens World Cup, the Hong Kong Sevens this weekend and the prospect of Sevens being included as an Olympic Sport.
Firstly, what a fantastic World Cup, what was the atmosphere like at the ground on the final day?
Similarly to how it has gone in the IRB World Sevens Series this season, the World Cup was incredibly open with upsets galore. During the quarter-finals, where the top four seeds all crashed out, the atmosphere was electric with 30,000 party loving, fancy dressed, sevens fans having the time of their life at the fabulous desert setting of ‘The Sevens’. The notoriously raucous Kenyan fans led the way with a celebratory ‘dance’ around the pitch following their win over holders Fiji… superb!
Was anyone tipping Wales to win at the start of the competition?
With odds of 80-1 you would have to say no! The Welsh have had the odd flash in the pan performance in the last few years – notably beating New Zealand in Wellington – but I haven’t heard of anyone who backed them for the World Cup. What they have enjoyed is continuity of selection for 2-3 years, which seems to have been the key formula for success this season. In Dubai it just seemed to click for them, playing intensive, creative, and physical sevens.
Is it now a case that the top 10 teams have caught up with the standards New Zealand and Fiji were setting in previous years? Do you think we will see semifinal lineups like Wales v Samoa and Argentina v Kenya again?
No doubt. It has been almost impossible to predict winners from the quarter/semi final line-ups at the last four IRB Series events, such are the fine margins between the top boys this year. England, South Africa, and Argentina have raised the bar whilst an injury plagued New Zealand have struggled to maintain their sky-high standards. Others, such as Wales, Kenya, Samoa and USA, clearly have what it takes – as they find greater consistency, we will increasingly see a host of new semi-final combinations. Always beware the Men in Black though…
Did you get a chance to speak to any of the IOC delegates? Do you think their opinions on Rugby Sevens’ inclusion in the Olympics changed during the course of the weekend?
I didn’t speak to the delegates myself, although saw them soaking it all up and spoke to a number of people who did speak to them – by all accounts they thoroughly enjoyed themselves and were very impressed with the event. There was some scintillating Sevens on display for them, with a number of games going into sudden death extra time and of course the upsets in the knock-out stages that saw the top 4 seeds all knocked out in the ¼ finals. Then to see 4 continents represented in the semi-finals is quite some statement.
Furthermore, the incredibly international crowd, the electric atmosphere and the large number of families and children in attendance would also have ticked some big boxes. All in all, I can’t imagine it could have been anything but a positive experience for the IOC delegates and for rugby’s chances of Olympic inclusion.
When is the decision due to be made?
The IOC will announce which sports will take part in the 2016 Games this coming October in Copenhagen. They can choose up to 2 from a shortlist of 7 (rugby sevens, karate, netball, squash, roller sports, softball and baseball).
What else is happening between now and then to further Sevens’ case?
The IRB will continue its push, rallying the support of the unions and top players and a final presentation will be made to the IOC in June. We at UR7s.com are currently preparing to launch a “people’s campaign” with a number of partners around the world. There are millions of people out there who are passionate about seeing rugby in the Olympics and would like to play their part in making it happen. There are a number of facebook groups out there supporting the campaign but none of them are yet as big as the one group dedicated to netball getting into the Olympics…
What we hope to do is provide a focus for all of this support from the rugby community, letting people know what they can do to spread the word and help the cause – and if, in the process, we can raise funds for some rugby charities around the world then that would be an added bonus.
The most powerful thing that we can do collectively is generate as much buzz and momentum as possible and make sure every one of the 118 voting IOC members are well aware of the extent of support for rugby’s inclusion as an Olympic sport.
Who is going to win in Hong Kong this weekend?
One thing is becoming increasingly apparent – predictions in international Sevens must be taken with a pinch of salt. But for England Hong Kong truly is their ‘happy place’, winning there four times between 2002 and 2006. They lost out at the World Cup in Extra-Time to Samoa but have been in four of the five finals this season on the circuit. With Varndell settling back into the squad and Gollings firing again this season, they will be tough to dismantle.
And who do you think will win this year’s IRB Sevens series?
Argentina, England, South Africa or New Zealand..! I’d love to leave my answer there. But that wouldn’t be manly. So… if my prediction for Hong Kong comes good, I can see England doing whatever it takes to see this one through on familiar soil in the last two legs.
Which players have stood out for you this year?
Australia have an 18 year old called Luke Morahan who is a rising star in the game – joint top try scorer this year. His pace, physicality, and nose for the try line has impressed everyone. Gonzalo Camacho has been a major influence behind Argentina’s progress, epitomising the Pumas’ relentless defense while insightful and creative on the attack. Then there is Japan’s man mountain, Alisi Tupuilei – whilst he may not make this year’s world team, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching him lead from the front with some immensely powerful and utterly committed displays.
Have you noticed an increase in enthusiasm for 7’s in the UK over the past few years?
No doubt. Whilst the Middlesex Sevens is not quite what it was back in the 70s, when tickets were more difficult to come by than England Internationals, there seems to be an unprecedented buzz around the invitational and open tournament scene up and down the country. New tournaments and invitational teams are cropping up all over the place. Last year saw the birth of the likes of Bournemouth and Newquay and this summer will welcome other new, ambitious events at Bury, Manchester and Hartpury to name a few. It feels like there is real momentum around the social and festival side of 7s, bringing a new sporting and entertainment phenomenon to the British summer.
Do you think it will continue to be an end-of-season secondary sport or will the amateur game be able to co-ordinate 7’s as a separate entity to the 15’s game over the summer months with a league structure? Is there even a need for this?
The profile of Sevens is growing as a sport in its own right all over. In many emerging rugby playing countries, such as Kenya, Germany and Brazil, Sevens now receives more focus than Fifteens, as it has done for a long time in Fiji. Even in the UK there is a growing number of Sevens specialists, but to the wider public I can’t see domestic Sevens commanding the same profile as XVs any time soon.
But these are in no way competing sports – rather they complement one another tremendously. My belief is that they can complement each other to an even greater extent with a more structured 7s season, and this is something we at UR7s are working on with a number of Tournament Directors, Team
Managers and the RFU.
A carefully thought-out “league structure”, bringing together a small group of tournaments under one umbrella, which both promotes the elite level of the game in the UK whilst nurturing the all-important invitational and social circuit, could be a big step forward for the sport. It would give the season some focus, encouraging tournaments to develop, teams and players to play more regularly, and could be more readily leveraged to attract media interest, sponsorship and outside investment for the game.
Implemented properly, and with buy-in from the core rugby sevens community in the UK, such a structure could add significant value to the sport and is something the current circuit is ripe for.
Finally, for anyone not yet sold on 7’s – why should they start following and how can they keep up to date?
www.UR7s.com – for everything 7s..!
It’s a shameless plug, but one of our main motivations for setting up UR7s.com is that there is no other one place to go to find out what’s happening in the world of sevens. UR7s.com is the first dedicated media platform dedicated to every level of rugby sevens worldwide.
For anyone not yet sold on 7s, the only thing to do is get yourself to a tournament. Go to the World Tournament Calendar on www.UR7s.com, decide where in the world you want to watch some Sevens and what time of year, check out a few of the tournament profiles, choose your event, choose a sunny day… and if you don’t have a good time – then you’re probably better off heading back to your basement to play World of Warcraft.