A Premier Mistake?

A few days ago I found myself thinking that we were surely due some news regarding this summer’s Premiership Rugby 7s Series. Perhaps Premiership Rugby have hired a psychic as when I looked on their website Tuesday evening, there was a story giving the dates and venue for this season’s tournament.

Unfortunately this news did not leave me as happy as I was hoping, and from reading the first paragraph, some of you may have already guessed why.

 

In previous years the competing teams – originally just the 12 teams in the upcoming Premiership year, but also the 4 Welsh Regions since 2014 – took part in pools of 4 teams, each pool being hosted by one of the teams in that pool. The final was then played at another venue, with the top 2 teams from each pool progressing to the final. This means that each of the previous tournaments have featured at least 4 host venues from around the UK. This time, however, Premiership Rugby have decided to change the style to what we saw during the Rio Olympics, with the 12 Premiership clubs competing over 2 days at Franklin’s Gardens.

While I think that it is a shame that the Welsh regions are no longer involved, I can understand the decision to copy the Rio format as this will make it easier for more casual fans to follow and understand. However, I feel that this is a mistake as we are now expecting everyone to make their way to Northampton for the tournament.

I’ve been lucky enough to attend a number of the pool stages at Kingsholm and have noticed the increase in popularity over the years as more people get into 7s. However, this was often helped by the pools often containing local rivals, so travel was less of an issue. Now that fans are expected to travel to Northampton, I would be very surprised if the tournament gets the same level of attendance as in recent years. Putting the first day of the tournament on a Friday will not help either, as fans will have to contend with work commitments and rush hour making travel to the event even more difficult.

 

If Premiership Rugby do decide to keep this format, then I would like to see them make it into – as the name suggests – a series, much like a Premiership version of the World Rugby Sevens Series, with legs held at each of the Premiership clubs. This way, casual fans can choose to attend their local leg of the tournament, while more dedicated fans could choose to attend multiple legs. It would also be easy enough for clubs to add their home leg into their season ticket package in order to help encourage high attendances, as the cost for a ticket in the past has never been that high. Granted, we probably wouldn’t be able to hold the entire series in the preseason, but we could have weekly legs in the preseason and perhaps even the opening weeks of the Premiership season, then complete the tournament towards the end of the season as the weather begins to improve again.

Playing legs during the season would also encourage teams to use players from their academy or ‘A’ teams as their stars will be otherwise engaged, which gives younger players more chance to gain experience in front of a big crowd. This would also surely be a good way for national team coaches like Simon Amor to identify future players for the World Series and other international tournaments.

 

Whatever happens, I will be interested to see how successful the new format of the tournament is and also to see what the next step is moving forward.

 

What are your thoughts on the new format? Is there anything you want to change about the Series? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge

Change Coming in the World Series?

Over the last couple of days I have been hearing rumours that England, Wales and Scotland are set to merge into a Team GB for the World Series as well as the Olympics. According to the reports, the team would then split into its individual countries for the World Cup and Commonwealth Games. Part of this has been driven by other nations not liking the way that Team GB have 3 chances of qualifying for the Olympics via the World Series under the current setup, whereas playing as Team GB would give them the same chance as any other nation. If this merger were to happen, it would be a big change to the Rugby 7s landscape, so I felt that the impact of this was worth having a look into.

Back in August, Team GB managed to completely prove my prediction that they would struggle at the Rio Olympics completely wrong by winning the silver medal as runners-up to Fiji. If the players were able to do that after only a couple of weeks together – compared to the other nations who had spent the best part of a year preparing for the tournament – then it is possible spending regular time together could give them an even better chance of victory in subsequent Olympic events. It could also lead to increased success in the World Series. England’s 2nd place in the overall standings of this season was the first time one of the Home Nations had finished in the top 3 since the 2011/12 season where England finished 3rd. By bringing in the top 7s players from Scotland and Wales, this will allow Team GB to be even more competitive in the World Series as they would have more top 7s players to pick from and they would also have a better chemistry than at Rio due to an increased time training together. It would also reduce much of the financial burden on the individual unions if they can all join together to fund one team. As has been noted by the media, it is not that long since the SRU considered cutting their 7s programme due to a lack of funds, but now they have won the London 7s 2 years running and are clearly a team on the up! World Rugby’s “School of Sevens” series of videos on YouTube also recently included a bit about the tactical use of different languages being used in 7s. In it, a number of English players mentioned how they were at a disadvantage as opponents could often understand them when they were speaking English, but they could not understand their opponent’s native tongue. It was also mentioned how Team GB used Welsh for the line out calls during the Olympics in order to stop other teams understanding them. Having a regular Great Britain team would allow them to start utilising the Welsh language and possibly also Gaelic to communicate on the field and have success against other nations.

While there are clearly a number of positives to merging the nations, in my mind there are also a couple of negatives that need consideration. Being able to pick a team from all 3 nations means that there are fewer places available for players, so we will probably see a potential development pathway – think New Zealand under Sir Gordon Tietjens – disappear as there will only be space for the sevens specialists. Perhaps even worse is the possible hindrance this merger could have on the individual nations’ chances in the Commonwealth Games and in the World Cups. If we look back to the 12-man Team GB squad that went to Rio, the squad consisted of 8 Englishmen, 2 Welsh and 2 Scots. Of those 4 players, only one will be expected to play in next year’s World Series due to 2 of them (James Davies and Mark Bennett) focusing on 15s and Mark Robertson retiring. I would expect a bit more balance in a Great Britain wider squad, but would still expect there to be an uneven balance between the 3 nations. While this may not necessarily cause problems when playing as Great Britain, it could put nations with fewer players involved at a disadvantage when they then split for the other tournaments as they would have less international experience than most other teams involved.

My personal opinion is that it would be good to see the nations merge for the World Series. However I think that it would benefit the nations to find a way to also keep their own individual national teams playing in some other tournaments outside the World Series so that there is still a decent degree of chemistry and experience for each individual national team.

 

As well as the prospective changes to the way these nations run their 7s programme, there is also talk that the World Series will be reduced from 16 teams to 12. I am not personally a fan of this. I know some people are worried that the quality of rugby would decrease if 2 spaces are freed up in a 16-team tournament by the Great Britain merger, but I feel that this could actually help the Series as a whole due to there being less chance of the promoted team being immediately relegated, which would allow emerging nations like Germany to improve by playing against the best teams in the world on a regular basis, but also being able to regularly compete with teams around their level so that they can still be competitive in matches.

 

What are your thoughts on the possible changes? Would you like to see either of these plans come to fruition, or do you have a better suggestion? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge