Glasgow – Rugby sevens received another massive boost ahead of its much-anticipated inclusion in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio when it offered up another top-notch tournament at the Commonwealth Games.
Any fears that the abbreviated version of 15-a-side rugby union might fall flat in the football-obsessed Scottish city of Glasgow were quickly dispelled as a Games-record 171,000 fans packed into Rangers' Ibrox Stadium for four noisy sessions over two days.
With a slick between-game entertainer and stadium announcers that consistently worked the crowd into a frenzy, rugby's world governing body, the IRB, were left impressed.
“Rugby sevens is thriving and continues to reach out and inspire new audiences and Glasgow 2014 has taken rugby sevens to new fans around the world,” said IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset.
“Congratulations to our medallists and all the teams who have showcased our sport and its character-building values brilliantly at the 'Friendly Games'.
“Glasgow 2014 has furthered the sevens success story and I would like to congratulate the teams, the organisers, volunteers and people of Glasgow for delivering an exceptional event.”
Indeed, one of the stand-out moments of two days of high-octane action was not just performances on the pitch, but also laugh-out-loud moments such as for the support afforded east African minnows Uganda.
The boisterous Ibrox crowd saved an especially rousing welcome for the Ugandans, likely in ironic reference to the east African country's one-time dictator Idi Amin, who famously claimed to be “King of Scotland”.
“We love Scotland and they love us too!” said Ugandan flyer Philip Wokorach, the atmosphere in the stadium mirroring the infamously raucous Hong Kong or Dubai sevens tournaments.
The inclusion of rugby sevens in the 2016 Olympic Games was hailed by the IRB as a “defining moment”, with the reasoning that the abbreviated form of the game was a portal for many people in non-traditional markets into the more complex 15-a-side version.
Rugby sevens' inclusion at the Rio Games also opens the way for a release of funds through national Olympic committees with the intent of those countries to compete globally.
That suddenly makes it a much more interesting prospect for not just Olympic heavyweights such as the United States or Russia, but also developing countries.
The beauty of sevens, a quick game played on a full pitch over two seven-minute halves and involving first-class skills and handling, tough tackling and some of the speediest players in the sport, lies in its spectacular simplicity.
The likely added inclusion of a host of top-drawer 15-a-side players wanting to bid for Olympic gold would further boost the sport.
A surge in 15s stars to the abbreviated game has long been predicted ahead of Rio, albeit alongside warnings from sevens coaches that a certain period of embedding would be required to fully prepare players.
While “big names” such as Kiwi Sonny-Bill Williams, the cross-code union and league star and arguably rugby's biggest name, would be crowd pullers, the simple fact is that for the moment, the crowd needs no pulling.
Another boost for Rio was that South Africa beat New Zealand on Sunday, triumphing 17-12 in a nail-biting contest.
The Springboks became the first team to beat the All Blacks since rugby sevens were introduced to the Commonwealth Games in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur, the Kiwis having won all four previous gold medals on offer.
“It's an awesome feeling winning the final and beating the All Blacks,” said outstanding South African finisher Seabelo Senatla, who scored two tries in the final victory.
“It all combines together and makes for an incredible experience. The crowd were behind us and that spurs you on at the end when your legs are tired.”
Key playmaker Cecile Afrika added: “The Commonwealth Games is a one-off tournament. As a squad we want to take this forward to the Rio Olympics.” – Sapa-AFP