CAPE TOWN – While the Sevens World Cup’s knockout format was declared a success by the governing body, does it really work for an event as big as a World Cup?
World Rugby broke away from tradition for the San Francisco event and scrapped the usual round-robin stage. Instead they went for a straight knock-out format, which meant that a defeat got teams knocked out of Cup contention immediately.
Sure, it certainly added drama - like when Australia were sent packing on the opening day of the tournament in San Francisco - but in a World Cup, especially in a game like Sevens, it’s rather brutal that one mistake can result in teams having to wait another four years to stake a claim for the title.
World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper, however, believes that the “brutal” nature of the 2018 tournament added to the excitement.
“It played into the drama of the tournament,” Gosper said. “We’re getting a lot of positive feedback from fans about the drama of knockout. It makes each game exciting. It can be brutal for teams, but sport’s brutal.”
Yeah, sport’s brutal. But other than a few added thrills due to the knowledge that your team - whether seeded 14th or first - could be competing for the Bowl after one defeat, what did the straight knock-out format add? How did it improve the World Cup?
Any change as big as that is supposed to be done with the aim of improving the sporting event, and if it was simply aimed at satisfying American fans, then hopefully we don’t see this format in 2022.
As we’ve often seen in the World Sevens Series, teams sometimes need a game to get going, so there’s not much sense in playing one game a day and then getting axed if that one game doesn’t go your way.
Also, the Blitzboks - who secured the bronze medal - could easily have fallen out on Friday night seeing that their first game of the tournament was against Ireland - who had momentum and some confidence after beating Chile earlier in the day (seeing that the Irish were seeded 16th and the Blitzboks first, it might seem highly unlikely, but as Blitzbok coach Neil Powell said ahead of the tournament - no team can be underestimated).
The traditional format allows some room for a hiccup or two in the first game, and then you have two more outings to make up for that first one and shift into gear. And so far, it’s worked, so why change it now?
Hopefully World Rugby revert to the tried-and-trusted format for the 2022 World Cup. And maybe also consider changing the official name from “Rugby World Cup Sevens” to “Sevens World Cup” or “Rugby Sevens World Cup”.
There’s not much wrong with the official name, other than the fact that it kind of makes Sevens sound like some Fifteens subsidiary. And I think it’s safe to say that the game of Sevens has proven to be more than just a second-class variant of rugby union.
Sticking to World Cup formats that work will, of course, also help a lot.