Can the Guinness Pro12 take inspiration from the Singha 7s?

Guinness PRO12 Logo

Now I know what people will say immediately- The Welsh are already tied into the successful Singha Premiership 7s- why would they want to switch that to play against teams that they play week in week out anyway- fair point.

But I think that Singha Premiership 7s have really set a good model up for other leagues to follow. It provides a platform for young players to stick their hand up for selection, to try and break into the first team from the academies. In total, since the tournament was created, no fewer than 25 players who have featured in the tournament have gone on to gain full international honours, showing that this really can be an excellent pathway for young players.

When we put that into the context of the Pro12, it could help to justify the desire to move away from playing league games during the international window. One of the arguments many have made for playing during the Internationals is that it provides players a platform to step up and get noticed by their coaches. Indeed if you look at the meteoric rise of Finn Russell a few seasons back at Glasgow Warriors, or the likes of Ali Price getting more regular selection, I think the argument has merit.

However, any merit that argument has is stumped by the hard fact that attendances/viewing figures of Pro12 games during the International period, almost cut in half. For a league with a miniscule amount of revenue for TV rights compared to the English and French leagues (£11.5m against £38m and €97m a year respectively) they need every viewer they can get, so it makes sense that Pro12 rugby are considering moving all fixtures to be outside of International windows, avoiding clashes with the Autumn Tests and Six Nations games.

What the 7s would do is work as a sort of replacement for that, giving younger/academy players the chance to shine, whilst improving the overall quality and perception of the league, as league matches will be played when the teams international stars are all available for selection.

The Format

So how could this work practically? As we have already mentioned, the Welsh sides are already tied into the Premiership 7s, leaving a four team sized gap. But this could play into the Pro12’s recent idea to include an American or Spanish based 15’s side into the league.

With both Spain and USA qualified for the Rugby 7s in the Rio Olympics, the profile, interest and hopefully investment in the sport should be set to grow as the teams look to build from this Olympics to the next. As much as 7s is high paced and good to watch, many will be interested in the full version of the game, so full 15s has a lot to gain from the Olympics.

If the Pro12 were to start by including just 7s teams in a Pro12 7s event, with legs hosted both in the USA and Spain as well as across Pro12 nations, they could build the foundations and the support for a full fledged 15s side in these new territories. At worst it could be a case of unsuccessfully testing the water. If there’s no success, then it’s back to the drawing board for the addition of 15s sides and the 7s could continue with  a replacement of invitational sides.

The Reality

At the moment, there’s no reason to suggest this is going to happen. Many of us have been refreshed by the Pro12’s approach recently, consulting fans about the best time for their fixtures, trying to create more derbies and openly acknowledging the need for more investment and looking into all options, including the addition of more teams and potentially a conference system.

However, amongst all of these ambitious plans, there has been no suggestion of sevens and even if this idea sounds good to you, despite being involved in the Premiership 7s, who’s to say that, as equal members of the Pro12 board, the Welsh would be happy for the league to run a competition that excludes them? Equally, I can’t see the Welsh throwing in the towel on the Premiership to join a Pro12 version of the same.

Is there interest?

This is of course a very small sample, but I asked Twitter and the support was overwhelmingly positive, with people suggesting all sorts of ways the competition could work. One suggestion was that each league fixture be accompanied by a 7s game throughout the season, adding value to matchday tickets and hopefully growing interest. Others have suggested an almost identical competition to the Premierships 7s and there was also talk of getting Super Rugby, Top 14 and Premiership sides involved.

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Twitter Poll- Would you support a Pro12 sevens competition?

Premiership 7s players who are now full 15s Internationals

This list does NOT include players who have made Intenrational appearances for their countries 7s teams.

George Kruis ENG

Stephen Hihetah ROM

Kieran Low SCO

Owen Farrell ENG

Jack Clifford ENG

Tommy Taylor ENG

George Ford ENG

Henry Thomas ENG

Hamish Watson SCO

Jake Carter SPAI

Jack Nowell ENG

Tom Heathcote SCO

Henry Slade ENG

Anthony Watson ENG

Matt Kvesic ENG

Duncan Taylor SCO

Jonny May ENG

Ross Moriarty WAL

Freddie Burns ENG

Ollie Devoto ENG

Marland Yarde ENG

Joel Tomkins ENG

Tom Bliss USA

Teimana Harrison ENG

Elliot Daly ENG

The truth is, I don’t expect to see this competition any time soon, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to!

If you’ve got any thoughts, please comment, or catch me on Twitter.

Also remember to sign up to the new Scribbler mailing list. Don’t worry, I won’t email you hourly (or even weekly for that matter!)

The Scribbler, July 31st, 2016

Twitter: @RugbyScribbler

WR U20 Championship review: The backs

On Top Of The Moon

Scotland’s backs suffered early blows in the World Rugby u20 Championship with Rory Hutchinson and Darcy Graham both departing the tournament after the opening fixture and George Taylor only featuring twice. Despite this the side were still able to match their best ever finish – which helps supports the contention that there is more depth at this level than there has been at any stage since the under 20 age grade was introduced. Here’s OTOTM’s guide who stood out among the backs who saw game time in the competition.

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WR U20 Championship review: The forwards

On Top Of The Moon

It was a tough workout for Scotland’s forwards in this season’s edition of the World Rugby u20 Championship. Providing 56% of the carries and 66% of the tackles the pack were frequently called upon to put their bodies on the line to try and put the side in a winning position. Here’s OTOTM’s guide who stood out among those who saw game time during the tournament.

View original post 604 more words

Why Rio could be huge for Women’s Rugby

14-rio-2016
Rio 2016 Logo

So as some of you will be aware, I worked over the weekend as the Team Liaison Officer for the Lithuanian National 7s side at the European 7s event in Exeter . One of the many famous faces celebrated there over the weekend was the RFU’s first full time women’s referee, Sara Cox.

Alongside the Team GB men’s and women’s sides, Sara is off to Rio to be a match official when Rugby finally returns to the Olympic games after a 92 year absence. I was thinking about the relevance of this, when I saw that Canada women’s had beaten England and shot up to second in the world rankings. This made me think, could women’s rugby one day take the centre stage for Rugby 7s and indeed Union?

It seems an odd concept to some. Rugby has long been considered a man’s sport, largely down to it’s physical aspects. But more women than ever are playing the game, watching the game and getting involved. Indeed, as physicality is more prevalent than in other sports, the results can often come down to who is that bit fitter, or wins the collisions.

This means that in men’s rugby, traditional rugby playing nations often seem to have the advantage. Look for example at Scotland’s last three games against Japan; they’ve been tight old affairs, but Scotland have won each three of those games in the second half. They wore down the Japanese. As much as it’s scary to say, I actually think the Japanese were the better team on Scotland’s two test tour over the summer, but they just couldn’t close out the game. Put simply, Scotland have been investing in Rugby for so long, their coaches and players are in perfect shape and have the experience to close out those tight games.

This is of course only one area of a game, and it certainly isn’t enough to be strong and fit to win a game, but it can often be the thing that makes up the fine margins.

If we look at the World Rankings top 10 between men’s and women’s, there are some big differences. Many of the teams that top the men’s also appear in the women’s top 10 too.

(Click on the Photos to enlarge)

However, teams such as Spain, Canada and USA make the cut, whilst Scotland don’t even make an appearance and Italy are ranked higher than Wales. One of the big affects the physicality has is that it’s is far more difficult to do a Wales in the Euros or a Leicester City in the Premiership- success takes a lot of time and investment and it takes time to capture the imagination of the public. I’m not suggesting football is an easier sport, but shock results are far more common.

Women’s Rugby on the big stage is still in it’s infancy and Rio really has the opportunity to throw it into the limelight. With the women’s game at such an early stage, could it steal the show at Rio? The Olympics will no doubt increase interest and investment in 7s and that may also transfer across to the full 15s game . So with that in mind, Women’s rugby is arguably more open to the moment and could become the focus for nations pushing for Olympic Gold, where they might feel that they cannot easily achieve one in the men’s.

Now I will admit, this is all very speculative. We’ve only just started to see professional female referees, whilst professional players such as Scotland’s Jade Konkel are still a rarity. However, I do believe the Rio Olympics will be a huge boost to both the men’s and women’s game. Do I think women’s will overtake men’s as the most popular form? Sadly not, but I do think that it will be a huge boost for Women’s Rugby worldwide and who knows, maybe one day we will be sitting down to watch a women’s world cup final in Twickers?

As usual, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter and don’t forget to sign up to my new mailing list, here!

The Scribbler, July 13th, 2016

Twitter: @RugbyScribbler