The word in the more established rugby union circles used to be that international rugby sevens was all about those here for a good time and not for a long time.
However, it is plainly clear to the buoyant crowd of 60,000+ present at Twickenham today, with the same expected tomorrow, as wells as those who braved Glasgow last week that international rugby 7’s is here to stay.
In the last three years the game has gone from being merely a great experience for all involved, to very much a serious sport in its own right. The decision by the IOC to grant it Olympic inclusion in June 2009 changed everything overnight. Suddenly, around the world the gushing tap of government funding could be heard as the financial might of heavyweight sporting nations like Russia, China and the USA poured forth in pursuit of an Olympic gold.
The result has been an increase in standards in the teams outside of the top tier and an expansion of the 7’s world series from 7 legs to 9. There is also now a pathway all the way from schools 7’s to the National Series to international recognition and a lucrative central RFU contract.
And it is still a blast to watch live. The carnival atmosphere born in Hong Kong has spread throughout almost every leg, married with beery, partisan terrace fervor such as at the Wellington and London legs of the series. Fancy dress is a constant throughout the year as is the welcome vibrancy of Kenyan Corner, the section of the crowd dominated by the Kenyan supporters complete with drums and horns and dancing. You cannot get this anywhere else.
And the quality of the players? The New Zealand 7’s coach Gordon Tietjens is recognised as one of the best skills coaches around and put the All Blacks through their paces during their successful world cup campaign. Hosea Gear, Victor Vito, Zac Guildford and Adam Thomson all graduated from the 7’s to the full All Black shirt. Closer to home Foden, Strettle and Tom Croft all made the same transition.
Talk of a schism between the 15-man game and 7’s is unnecessary, the two can inform each other for the better. Regardless, international rugby 7’s is here and the rugby world is all the better for it.