TV View: Sevens rugby has its day in the sun
Becoming an Olympic sport adds to spectacle of world series in Dubai
Jasa Veremalua scores a try for Fiji against England in the final of the Dubai Rugby Sevens on Saturday. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images.
It was a weekend of the same game played in different ways and also one that wasn’t played at all. Rugby sevens is the new kid on the block. Although it has been around for a long time, this season is coming out season, its moment to grab a place alongside the 15-man game rather than filling the roll of the simpering little brother, the position it has always seemed to have held.
The Olympic Games does that to things. It inflates and grows sports that very often seem to by pass this part of the world. Eleven of the teams have qualified for Rio with just one berth left to be decided at a qualification tournament in June of next year.
In Dubai on Friday and Saturday at the World Series Sevens event on Sky Sports, the sun shone, literally, on the first of the 10 rounds of games.
Dubai, Cape Town, Wellington, Sydney, Las Vegas, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris and finally London, the series reads like the sort of world tour that an idle billionaire American might have taken in the 1920s.
What’s interesting to folk like the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who fell for the more compact version of the game for next year’s inclusion rather than the 15-man variety, is not just the smaller numbers but the global team mix.
Fiji beat England to win the title. But USA made it to the semi-finals, while Kenya, Russia and Portugal were also playing in the competition. Alas no Irish men, although the women’s team, an interesting composite of different sports stars from hockey, basketball, and GAA, did compete, discovering above all the amount of ground they will have to make up on the other nations if the experiment is to be judged a success.
The game is, they say, contact averse and lactic heavy, more aerobic in its requirements and in its own way more spectacular than 15s. Fiji’s Pio Tuwai seems a tailor made superstar in waiting, his ability to be revealed to a wider audience on August’s Olympic platform.
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The USA had Carlin Isles on the wing. His 100 metre time of 10.13 seconds would have been good enough for the semi-finals at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Flanker Liam Messam, another of the All Blacks World Cup-winning squad has joined Williams in focusing on sevens this season.
Springboks Damian de Allende and Lwazi Mvovo, were invited to train with the South Africa sevens team in November.
Australia’s Quade Cooper has similar intentions, while Bernard Foley and Israel Folau are in Japan but will make a decision in early 2016. Winger Henry Speight, part of Michael Cheika’s World Cup Australian squad was in Dubai.
Perfectly bite sized for television, each game takes around 15 minutes to play. The schedulers leave 22 minutes between matches, which means they can run the competition over two days with 45 games, another reason the IOC overlooked 15s.
It was in Rodney Parade where Munster were falling to Newport. One high punt by the Welsh fullback Carl Meyer tumbled in the air and thumped off the corrugated iron roof of the stand, Peter’s Pies plastered on the front.
A slate grey sky shrouded the residential houses and apartment blocks visible over the wall of the ground. The floodlights came on three minutes before four o’clock and cast shadows on the surface. Dubai it wasn’t.