CAPE TOWN - It’s not “real rugby”. It’s just one big party. It’s just entertainment.
I’ve heard a lot of comments like these hurled at the game of Sevens. I’ve seen many a rugby “purist” maintain this kind of attitude towards the seven-man game. Almost like an in-your-face fifteens vegan.
And I’ve never understood it. I just don’t get it.
Because really, what’s not to love?
Since the birth of Sevens in the small Scottish town of Melrose back in 1883 - when a 19th century Scottish butcher and his apprentice suggested reducing the number of players in each team to take part in a sports day to raise funds at the end of the rugby season (of course, full games of rugga wouldn’t have been practical) - the game has never been able to come close to the level of fifteens. It has always been the younger, less serious, and probably less significant cousin of its fifteens senior. But Sevens, one of the fastest growing sports in the world, is gaining popularity at an exponential rate. It’s gaining its own identity. And it’s not hard to see why.
It’s spectator friendly. In fact, it’s a spectator magnet. Unlike the 15-man game, a sport whose law book has caused more confusion than some of World Rugby’s choices when it comes to selecting referees to officiate big Tests, the seven-man game is simple. It’s much, much easier to understand, and it’s probably one of the reasons why fans, people from all walks of life, seem to get more enthusiastic about it every year (I guess we can also thank its reintroduction to the Olympics for that).
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love fifteens as well, I’m just trying to explain what I think makes Sevens so special.
Stunning scenery ✅
Sold-out tournament ✅
Epic weekend of rugby coming up ✅
It's the HSBC Cape Town Sevens! pic.twitter.com/AThDKri91q
Part of Sevens’ public appeal can undoubtedly be attributed to its vibe. Yes, it’s a party vibe. It’s a great atmosphere, and it’s tangible. You don’t even have to go to one of the legs of the World Sevens Series to see this vibe, you’ll even find it at a club Sevens tournament. I guess it’s just a Sevens thing.
When it comes to the World Sevens Series, I’ve often seen fans briefly disappointed when their team gets knocked out in the quarters or semi-finals or whenever. But even though their teams aren't be in contention anymore, the eagerness to watch the remaining action - doesn’t matter between who - is even more noticeable than that initial disappointment. The vibe doesn’t disappear.
There’s a very visible camaraderie between fans, there’s pure enjoyment.
But I also enjoy this game for the more technical reasons.
Just look at how mistakes in Sevens can hurt a team. Just look at how a dropped ball or a missed tackle can lead to a devastating try.
And then there’s the athleticism.
You’ll see some of the finest athletes on the World Sevens circuit. And you’ll be treated to a display of skills that is simply incredible - what makes it even more pleasing to watch is how Sevens players have to execute those skills well under immense pressure. There are little to no breaks. You have to get up and get back in line almost immediately after defending and you have to get back in line almost immediately after attacking - over and over and over again.
Whether you attack through the middle or out wide or in behind, Sevens is a game that beautifully blends finesse with the strength and power that is crucial in making big hits and constantly producing bursts of activity.
Sevens is more than just entertainment, it’s one of the finest sports in the world. But I doubt I even need to say that, because anybody who’s ever seen a couple of matches would know that all too well.
It contains so many elements of the 15-man game, and most of those elements are heightened in terms of quickness and intensity. Want to see huge work at the breakdown performed at freakishly impressive efficacy and speed? Look at some of Sevens’ breakdown masters. Want to see counter-attacking potency or attack turn into defence in a split second? Watch a game of Sevens. Want to see athletes put to the test in every component of physical performance there is? Watch some of the action at the Cape Town event this weekend.
And then there’s also the team work. If there is one sport in which individuals need to work hard for each other, it’s Sevens. Put that teammate into space. Assist that mate in the tackle. Communicate. Because one slip up can give an opponent just enough of a chance and space to punish you.
It’s a sport that requires a special kind of athlete. It’s not just an “abbreviated game” that fifteens players can decide to dabble in should they look to experience something other than the 15-man game (ask Quade Cooper and Sonny Bill Williams, for example). No, it doesn’t work like that. Sevens is a special game. And it displays athleticism, talent and teamwork in a special way.
So tell me, what’s not “real” about that?