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.
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.
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.
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.
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The Scribbler, July 31st, 2016