When Ned Hague, a butcher from Melrose, Scotland, thought up rugby sevens in 1883 as a way to raise money for his beloved club, he probably did not realise he had created what would become, more than a century later, one of the newest and most dynamic Olympic sports.
Rugby sevens has been an Olympic sport since Rio 2016 and at the end of HSBC SVNS 2024, which kicks off in Dubai this weekend, we will see the top teams strive for Olympic gold at Paris 2024.
If you loved watching the recent Men’s Rugby World Cup or the WXV tournaments and you’re looking for a new fix of international rugby, sevens is the game for you. For me, it is the greatest sport on the planet. It’s a bold claim, but let me explain a little more about it and you can make your own mind up.
You can look at rugby union as having two children, 15-a-side and seven-a-side. They appear similar enough that you know they are related, yet they have very different and distinct personalities. They are both full-contact invasion games played on the same sized pitch with the aim of scoring more points than the opposition.
General rugby rules are the same but the difference in player numbers creates very different gameplay.
Fifteens is the older sibling. It’s well-established and settled in its ways. It’s played over 80 minutes and relies on building pressure and controlling momentum within a rigid structure.
Sevens is younger, full of energy and set on making big waves. It’s played over 14 minutes and relies on speed and performing intricate skills under high pressure and mind-bending fatigue.
With fewer players on the pitch, there is more space to cover in attack and defence, making rugby sevens super-charged and thrill-a-minute. It is the ultimate test of individual skills and fitness. To put things into perspective, every sevens player needs to be able to hit 15-metre passes off both hands while running at top speed with their heart-rate rocketing in front of tens of thousands of fans, many of them in fancy dress. For this reason, sevens players are some of the quickest, fittest and most skilful athletes on the planet.
Fifteen-a-side and sevens are siblings who get on very well and often help each other out. Indeed, 17 players from the latest men’s and women’s Rugby World Cup finals have had distinguished sevens careers under their belts, including superstars Cheslin Kolbe, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Portia Woodman-Wickliffe, Reiko Ioane and Ellie Kildunne.
A season on the SVNS circuit is immensely beneficial for a player’s development. They will not only become a more finely honed athlete on the pitch after playing the best players from multiple countries but they will have learnt vital professional skills off it. These include game analysis, dealing with travel and optimising your nutrition.
Sevens has always welcomed 15s players across and will continue to do so. France’s Antoine Dupont and Australia’s Michael Hooper have recently taken the leap in preparation for the 2024 Olympics. This is box-office for the game and continues sevens’ growth and development.
Beyond the stadium
As a spectator, the fun doesn’t stop on the pitch. The newly rebranded SVNS series takes in eight fantastic cities that offer unique tournaments and travel experiences. Tournaments are played over two or three days and feature 12 men’s and women’s teams respectively.
The atmosphere at a sevens tournament is high-octane, high-adrenaline and full of fun. If your bag is seeing incredible tries, rib-crunching tackles and insane offloads, then you need to get yourself to a tournament this year. Each stop on the series is a celebration of everything good in rugby and, take it from me, there’s something there for everyone.
In the build-up to Dubai this weekend, for example, you could be dune bashing in the desert; in Hong Kong, diving into a world-renowned street food scene, or clicking into skis on the snow-capped mountains above Vancouver. As a player, I loved the travel while playing sevens and I would often extend my trip after a tournament.
HSBC SVNS 2024 tournament dates
- Dubai: 2-3 December, 2023;
- Cape Town: 9-10 December, 2023;
- Perth: 26-28 January, 2024;
- Vancouver: 23-25 February, 2024;
- LA: 2-3 March, 2024;
- Hong Kong: 5-7 April, 2024;
- Singapore: 3-5 May, 2024;
- Madrid: 31 May-2 June, 2024.
Rugby sevens: a game for everyone
Every year more and more sevens tournaments pop up around the world. They give players of all ages and abilities the chance to develop while playing with a smile on their faces.
Rosslyn Park Schools 7s is the biggest tournament in the world, with more than 10,000 boys and girls competing annually. At the Emirates Dubai 7s, a plethora of invitational tournaments will be played at the same time as the international teams, and you’ll routinely see a handful of retired test internationals donning their boots for the love of rugby.
If you are interested in playing I would recommend looking for local tournaments. If there are no local teams playing sevens then it is very common for people to start their own.
For me, this is another amazing aspect of the sevens game. It is far more accessible than starting a 15-a-side team and can be used as the perfect entry-point into rugby. This is often seen in less traditional rugby-playing countries, for example, Brazil women will play in their third Olympic games in Paris next year.
As someone who has been around the world playing sevens, I often get asked about tips when starting off in the shortened format and these are the three things I would concentrate on:
- Make sure your skills are well-practised and finely tuned. Your passing, tackling, kicking, rucking and sidestepping will all be put under pressure when you’re fatigued.
- Sevens is fast-paced, and the biggest obstacle I see for 15s is that their legs can’t handle the repeated high-speed efforts. It is common to see 15-a-side players pick up hamstring niggles when they first come into camp, so I would recommend introducing some repeated sprints into your training regime.
- Try to play as often as you can. Start with local tournaments – if you enjoy them and play well I guarantee opportunities will crop up in bigger tournaments. This is the route I took to playing sevens for Wales.
I may be biased, but this next season could, perhaps, be one of the biggest and best in terms of the action on and off the pitch for rugby sevens.
It will culminate in the Olympic Games next year where billions of eyes will be revelling in watching these incredible athletes.
It’s so exciting to see more and more younger players looking for opportunities to play sevens and this can only be accelerated by the exposure given by the Games in Paris. Sevens hasn’t yet grown to the size of its older sibling, but it’s well on its way and rapidly gaining momentum.