By Jon Hobbs
Ever since Mr Webb-Ellis supposedly showed a blatant disregard for the rules by picking up a ball and running with it, people have been trying to tamper with the laws of our great game and get away with it. As displayed in the case of young William, if these alterations result in a more attractive, interesting game the rugby union fraternity will eventually embrace them.
One excellent variation which has been in existence since 1883 is the game of rugby sevens. It is believed that a butcher named Ned Haig was the one who came up with the idea of the shortened version of the game as a result of wanting to stage an easy-to-manage tournament as a fundraiser for Melrose Rugby Club. Melrose won that tournament in extra time in the final and were presented with the Ladies Cup (so named because it was donated by the ladies of Melrose) and sevens was born.
Through the next century sevens was always seen as an amusing sideline to the main event, played pre- or post-season and never taken too seriously. However with the advent of the sevens world cup (began 1993, every four years), world sevens series (1999 onwards) and the recent trend of certain countries using the circuit as a breeding ground for fresh, young talent, this form of the game has become more important.
There have been three winners of the sevens world cup – England, Fiji (x2) and New Zealand – the next one is scheduled for 2009 in Dubai. New Zealand and Fiji have dominated the world series since it’s inception in 1999, with the kiwis generally finishing on top of the pile with seven series wins to Fiji’s one. There have, however, been notable tournament wins for South Africa, Samoa, England, France and Argentina. Here lies the crux of sevens’ appeal – any country with decent coaching and a few excellent athletes can compete in this form of the game. Recently Kenya have beaten England, Zimbabwe have beaten Scotland and Tunisia have beaten Australia.
This season, New Zealand have dominated the world series, winning all four of the tournaments so far. Two weekends ago they defeated South Africa in the final of the USA event to extend their unbeaten run to a world record 34 consecutive matches. The next tournament is in Adelaide on the 5th/6th April and all the other nations will be determined not to let NZ do the clean sweep of trophies this season.
The way the game is now played is fast paced, exciting and full of tries. Stars are developing in this form with the most sublime skills, pace and flair. Over the next few weeks leading up to the most celebrated event on the circuit, the Hong Kong sevens, The Rugby Blog will be having a look at the best teams, greatest players and amazing tries from the current scene as well as over the past 15 years.
Here’s a little glimpse of how good sevens can be!