Referee Rozier: ‘If you want spectacular play, passes and skills – watch SVNS’

How the laws, and the lawkeepers, make sure HSBC SVNS 2024 will be a high-speed, non-stop action festival of rugby sevens.

From limited stoppages to zero tolerance on slowing down play, sevens-specific laws focus on enabling teams to attack, attack, attack… making the game wonderfully simple for Jeremy Rozier, one of those charged with officiating the first stop of the revamped HSBC SVNS 2024.

“Sevens is very attractive because it’s very spectacular in terms of ball-in-play time,” the French referee said from the desert ahead of the season-opening Emirates Dubai Sevens.

“There are not a lot of stoppages compared to fifteens because we don’t have a lot of scrums and we don’t have a lot of lineouts. The set-pieces, if we have them, are very quick and seven players against seven on the same (size) field (as the fifteen-player game) creates a lot of space. Player fitness is extraordinary and their skills are very high. And, of course, we have spectacular tries.”

Laws exist to speed up the game

Over the course of the next six months, fans across the world will get a chance to see the planet’s best 12 men’s and women’s sevens sides do battle as they chase a spot in the first-ever Grand Final weekend (31 May – 2 June, 2024) in Madrid, and it’s Rozier knows it is his and his colleagues’ job to enable the players to show their very best.

“The main thing for us is to allow the game to be very quick. We are very focused on speed of ball,” he said.

Thankfully, the laws of the game are there to help. First up, there is ‘zero tolerance with tacklers’ around the breakdown area. Add on what is effectively a series of stop-clocks and you soon get the idea.

“We have a lot of (strict) timings around kick-offs and conversions. When you kick at goal after a penalty is awarded, it’s 30 seconds. The same when you are taking a conversion and once the conversion is taken or missed, it’s 30 seconds again for kick-off,” Rozier said.

“At the lineouts, it is 15 seconds to form the lineout. We are stricter, too, around time wasting, which means zero tolerance when the ball goes into touch. 

“The team defending needs to put the ball down directly to allow the opposing team to play quickly. If they don’t, it is an automatic penalty or (an extra) 10 yards on the penalty and a yellow card for the player.

“We need to have the ball available very quickly to enable the opposing team to be able to play very fast, create space and score more tries.”

Set-pieces create space

For those new to the 15-a-side game, the intricacies involved at scrum-time can be a little indecipherable. Not so when there are just three people on each team packing down.

“Scrums are there to have a good contest and afterwards have a lot of space for the attack, four against four in the rest of the field,” Rozier explained. “Re-setting scrums can happen once in a game if there is nothing very obvious to whistle but otherwise our main thing is to have a good set piece and get the ball quickly away.”

The philosophy is near-identical at lineouts. A minimum of two players from each side must contest the ball with one receiver, normally the hooker, who throws the ball in. In and away is the name of the game.

Risk and reward

Grabbing any opportunity to take advantage of space is something fans in Dubai will notice, especially whenever Rozier and his colleagues do intervene.

“In sevens, when you have a penalty advantage, after two passes the advantage is over – for knock-ons too – so most of the time the biggest advantage for a team is when we whistle quickly,” he said. “Because when we give a penalty the (defending) team has to retreat 10m from the mark and during this time the (attacking) team can play quickly and have the advantage of playing when the defence is not set.”

Rozier, who has refereed on the sevens circuit since 2017 and is hoping to officiate at the Olympic Games Paris 2024, especially loves the emphasis on risk and reward.

“We ask players to be technically accurate all the time, if they take a risk on something and are wrong in their technique, we are quick to penalise them. On the other hand, if they take a risk and get it right – for instance, if they knock the ball backwards in (going for) an interception – they get the reward,” he explained.

In this vein, deliberate knock-ons always result in a yellow card, as well as a penalty. Meanwhile, any contact above the shoulder is deemed a high tackle and will also result in two minutes in the sin-bin. 

As Rozier points out, being a player down for two minutes in a 14-minute game on a full-size pitch is a major disadvantage. “They have to get it right.”

With fewer bodies and streamlined laws, everything is “much more readable”, according to the referee. This makes the game, and its new iteration of SVNS, particularly appealing to newcomers.