A lesson in Sevens history by former England international Andy Ripley.
The first international game of rugby was in 1871 between England and Scotland. In that particular match there were 20 players on each side, and the referees, or rather umpires as they were called then, wore black and white shirts and had flags rather than whistles. With 20 players on each side, it was more of a kicking game back then.
The sevens came along in 1883, when Ned Haig, a Scottish butcher’s apprentice and the Melrose 20-a-side quarterback, suggested holding a tournament as part of a local sports day. To run a tournament for 20-a-side teams was considered unworkable and so Ned’s boss, David Sanderson, suggested playing in a tournament over the border that required reduced numbers of players in each team.
On 28 April 1883, seven clubs took part in the Melrose seven-a-side tournament, with the time of each match limited to 15 minutes. In Scotland and the border country Sevens quickly developed its own ethos and people suddenly found they liked watching it, and liked playing it, because it was so quick. It was – and is – the very best of rugby.
Sevens tournaments caught on and evolved, and out of all of that the Rosslyn Park Sevens emerged, just as the Second World War was breaking out. The final, on April 12 1939, was between St George's Harpenden and Clifton College. St George's won 10-8.
Sevens is very different to 15-a-aside. It’s fast and very fun to watch and, if you’re built in the right way, it’s good to play. If you’re a little fat prop it’s not so great! You tend to find the best Sevens players are usually the backs. Occasionally you’ll get forwards who excel at it, such as Lawrence Dallaglio. Many of England’s current backs were all guys who started off playing Sevens.
It’s a great arena for showcasing talent, because you can stand out in Sevens – there’s more space on the pitch. The quick, wide passing and long running breaks – that’s the stuff that gets people out of their chairs.
I played in the first international Sevens competition in 1972 to celebrate the Murrayfield centenary in Scotland and since then it’s particularly taken off. It’s taken off in Hong Kong and it then developed into a professional game with its own identity. Now there are Sevens tournaments around the world, and they’re very well regarded. And I think that if you were to talk about rugby and the Olympics, it’s probably Sevens that one day will feature in the Olympics.
The Rosslyn Park Sevens has always been something that people can be very proud of, and more so as time has gone by. It’s a joyful occasion for lots of young men and women.
There will be a dad’s and lad’s event next year, but I’m 60 now so far too old to play. These days, I spend a lot of my time trying not to get too muddy. I eat a burger or two, and watch the young men and young women running into each other and causing themselves damage. All the usual stuff.
I’ve seen my son play and my daughter play in it and occasionally I have been asked down to shake people’s hands and give them cups and I’ll always very happily do all that. I’m very proud to be associated with it.
Andy Ripley gained 24 caps for England in the 1970s and played in the Lions 1974 tourReuse content