Rugby Union: The serious world of sevens

Jonathan Davies says Britain can learn a lot from the Fiji entertainers
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Fiji's victory in the World Cup Sevens in Hong Kong last weekend proved that there is no point in playing sevens rugby at that level unless you intend to take it very, very seriously. It has gone well past the stage of being merely a light-hearted variation of the main game. Sevens is an excellent game in its own right.

There have been complaints against the World Cup format and there is still much to be learned. For a start, ITV could learn that there was more than one British Isles team involved. Perhaps I was unlucky, but I hardly saw a glimpse of Scotland, Ireland or Wales in action on my screen.

Although Fiji were brilliant and South Africa not far behind, I wasn't too impressed with the general standard. Too many other commitments are getting in the way. In Fiji, sevens has taken over as the favourite brand of rugby but it is not a success they can sustain at 15-a-side level.

It is even more amazing that a player with the many skills of Waisale Serevi should have found it so difficult to be a star in the main game. It proves that when you become the best sevens specialist in the world it leaves room for little else.

It also works the other way. Western Samoa played very well but they didn't seem to have the necessary all-round strength to get to the final. While they've lost ground in sevens, however, they've made rapid progress in 15-a-side. For the smaller countries, it is difficult to shine in both.

Having said that, those rugby powers New Zealand and Australia didn't do very well either. Both have great records in sevens but the demands of the present Super 12 series meant that they sent weakened teams to Hong Kong.

South Africa, on the other hand, had enough depth of talent to come close to a World Cup double. Their squad had all the attributes of size, strength and speed and also the vital ability to pressurise their opponents into mistakes. Stephen Brink particularly impressed me and he doesn't figure very highly in the South African XV reckoning.

They won when Wales played them in Dubai in the qualifying tournament but we did well enough to suggest that had we been able to field our first- choice squad, we had the right blend to have done well. But injuries wiped out several players and this will continue to be the danger for all the home countries if the World Cup Sevens is staged so soon after the Five Nations.

It is not realistic to expect our teams to be fully fit and prepared at that time. But that doesn't mean to say we should lose interest in sevens rugby. What we need to do is change our attitude. We have plenty of sevens tournaments but we don't take them seriously, which is why Wigan were able to walk all over the Middlesex Sevens last year. I've always loved sevens. It suited my game and in 1986 I played so much sevens for various invitation teams around the world it threatened to burn me out at the age of 23.

Sevens has developed a lot since then. The accent used to be heavily on attack but now defensive play is probably more important. We need to give it more emphasis and start to realise that the best sevens players are not necessarily to be found in the national XVs.

We should make more of sevens at schools and youth levels. It would be more attractive to kids because it is action-packed, easier to understand and not as technical. It develops skill, speed, tackling and the ability to fight for the ball and to appreciate possession when you get it.

Not only would it produce better all-rounders for the bigger game it would identify specialists at an early age. It would give our sevens tournaments more bite and watchability and might even encourage us to have an annual Five, or Six, Nations sevens event. It would only take two days and, who knows, it might send our sevens teams of the future across the world with hopes of something better than a good hiding.

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