As someone who has played the seven-a-side and 15-a-side rugby formats, I have always firmly believed sevens is the game’s insurance policy.
The longer format we know and love is a technical game, which requires great physicality. It also requires a large group of people to play properly. It is not a global game presently, it is an international game played at the highest level, and at any one time, around a dozen teams are competitive.
The ambition is to raise that to 20 over time, and I believe that can happen – but to be a genuinely global game you have to be competitive in over 100 countries. That’s not where rugby’s currently at.
The joy of sevens, which is not a new format – it started in Melrose 140 years ago – is that it is a sport that allows expression and pace. It is also simple to understand and only one step away from tag, a game that can be played in the playground.
It is also fast-moving, and gives you that precious ability to find space, pin your ears back and go and score a try. It’s the most liberating form of rugby union and that is why we should care about it.
To be clear, it is not a replacement for the 15-a-side game, but it can express itself to many more markets.
I was hugely involved behind the scenes with HSBC in 2009, creating the HSBC SVNS format we see today. Sevens provides rugby with the chance to spread its international wings to boys and girls, men and women, in all formats. With Olympic inclusion since 2016, it has given the game an extraordinary ability to speak to a global audience. The diminutive game of union is a recruitment device, a celebration device, a festival device – as Dubai is just about to show us – and, for me, all of those reasons mean it has to be cherished and nurtured.
I was instrumental in the funding of the series, bringing it to life and seeing it through to Olympics inclusion but I’ve never felt the game has embraced, nurtured and cherished sevens as it should, so I’m delighted World Rugby and Alan Galpin have been brave in relaunching the tournament.
In the HSBC SVNS, we’ll yet again see that Dubai and Hong Kong are the engine rooms of the game. Why? Because they are so relevant to their local communities, and they shine a light so brilliantly on what is possible. Others should follow.
With eight rounds dotted around the world, and the LA Olympics coming in 2028, this is their moment.
If you take a child to a sevens tournament, they will love it, understand it and have an amazing day. It’s like Test cricket and the IPL. It's a much easier format to explain to someone who knows very little about the sport. If you take someone who has never watched rugby to sevens, they’ll get it.
Looking ahead, I am incredibly bullish about sevens. I implore everybody to look at the two grand daddies of the series: Dubai and Hong Kong. Dubai has been doing this since 1970 so the blueprint for success is there. Watch what they do.
The sevens circus rolls into Cape Town soon enough and that has been a success over the years, and I am personally delighted Vancouver is on the series, with its snow-capped backdrop.
To close HSBC SVNS 2024, Madrid is a punchy destination but there is a heritage of rugby in Spain that can be unearthed and reignited. It is a magnificent city will host a spectacular festival of the sport.
All roads lead to Paris and the Olympic Games in late July and I believe it will be outstanding. It was tough for rugby and golf to debut in Rio, where the sports aren’t particularly dominant, but the French capital is absolutely the right place. It is one of the great rugby markets and will be on an epic scale.
I have spoken to a lot of players about Dupont. As a talisman and poster boy he didn’t get his fairy-tale Rugby World Cup because of injury and that narrow loss to the Springboks, and I understand that he will help lift the profile of the game.
What none of us know is how he will adapt to the different skills and physical requirements that rugby sevens demands. The fun will be in seeing if he can convert quickly enough to be competitive in July. It will be a fascinating subplot to the Games.
I really want sevens to work because in a modern world of fast, ephemeral content, boys and girls playing, inclusivity, parties, music, and all the rest of it, it is absolutely where sport is going. The Rugby World Cup has been and gone, there is the Women’s World Cup in 2025 but no one should take their eyes off sevens.