Germans go sevens-crazy

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The Independent Online

Organisers for the European qualifiers for next years Sevens World cup have been forced to open the top tier of the AWD-Arena in Hannover after pre-selling over 35,000 tickets for the event on 12-13 July, mostly to fans within Germany.

Five of the 12 sides will qualify for next year’s Rugby World Cup Sevens in Dubai in March, joining England, Scotland and France, the three European sides pre-qualified after reaching the Cup quarter finals in the last World Cup in Hong Kong in 2005.

Top seeds Portugal are favourites along with Wales, although they face stiff opposition from Ireland, Spain, Russia, Italy, Ukraine, the hosts Germany, Romania, Poland, Belgium and Georgia.

For the first time in 2009, the Rugby World Cup Sevens will feature both men’s and women’s teams.

Uruguay’s men and Brazil’s women have already qualified from South America, while in European women’s qualifying England have already booked their place along with the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, France and Italy.

Germany’s own rugby scene is growing at pace. Promoted to the top tier of the European Nations Cup next year in fifteens alongside the likes of Georgia and Romania, the Sevens side is also benefiting from the recent addition of a new coach, New Zealander Philip ‘Lofty’ Stevenson.

Organiser of the Hannover event Achim Behring-Scheil has been credited with attracting such huge interest. Stevenson said: “It’s crazy, Achim’s told the German Federation that he can do it and he’s got so much energy that he’s got 35,000 supporters from Hannover, more than some of the tournaments worldwide on the IRB Sevens World Series.

“They’ve just embraced it and Hannover’s such a good town, I’m sure that everyone who goes there will have a wonderful time.”

As has already been shown by the likes of Kenya, Portugal, Tunisia and the Cook Islands in the IRB Sevens World Series, Sevens rugby allows countries with limited playing numbers to live with, and even beat, senior rugby playing nations.

Tunisia memorably overcame South Africa at the last Rugby World Cup Sevens in Hong Kong, Portugal have beaten the likes of France and Australia in the World Series, the Cook Islands overcame England and Kenya have risen to the top six in the world.

“It’s very much a leadership role that Sevens plays in the developing rugby nations,” said Stevenson.

“And before they know it, these countries realise that they can play fifteens as well because they’ve grown a larger pool of players with different skills.

“I am excited to be able to have the chance to do it for Germany, for German rugby and the German rugby people. It is really a showcase for the sport and a giant leap onto the European rugby stage.”