What’s to become of the real game of rugby?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 March, 2013, 6:17pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 March, 2013, 9:03am

Where it began, I can’t begin to knowin’

But then I know it’s growing strong …

It began here in Hong Kong. Well, it began in Melrose, but here was where it went international, and here is where it grew strong, and now it’s getting stronger.

Yes, I know, you’re tired of hearing about the Olympics and Rio and Sevens and what it will do for rugby; me too, tired and a tad worried.

World series sponsors HSBC should be a tad worried too, as there are literally legions of sponsors willing to pay millions to snatch the series from them. Again, this is due to "Sevens as an Olympic sport" euphoria.

But what’s to become of the real game of rugby? Fifteens is real rugby, not some poor relation and I worry the International Rugby Board is not thinking strategically about the long term unintended consequences of this focus on Sevens.

The IRB maintain all member countries must have a 15s programme, but is it enforceable?

Already China is focusing on Sevens, to the detriment of 15s. Olympic committees around the world are jumping on the sevens bandwagon in the hope of securing funding.

There are 28 teams here this weekend; at the Olympics there will be 12. That’s correct, 12 only. According to the IRB there are over 100 countries with member unions either established or affiliated. Oh dear, there are going to be some unhappy member unions around the world come 2016.

There is now a massive disconnect between 15s and Sevens and it will only get worse as more and more athletes, like the US’s Carlton Isles, join Sevens as a route to Olympic glory.

When I was growing up, rugby was a game for all shapes and sizes, and to a certain extent, it still is, although Shane Williams is probably the last we’ll see of the small wingers.

But sevens is evolving into a game for fast folks only, the small fast one will always beat the slow big one, and the big fast one will walk over the small fast one, so the choice of players becomes limited, alienating many fans who love rugby for the diversity.

The IRB must have a programme that builds on the opportunities offered by the wider Olympic appeal to safeguard the game of 15s, but I’m not hopeful as since the first World Cup in 1987 little has been done to build the game in those countries where it is popular but struggling. And they’ve failed to stop the player drain from the island Pacific nations, much to the detriment of the game in those countries. I’m writing this before the finals start but I am willing to bet it will be Fiji in the cup as they knocked out New Zealand – shame they were in the same half of the draw.

Other winners this weekend, the sound system, vastly improved, the South Stand for filling up so early on Saturday, the DJ for choosing better music and getting the crowd going, and of course, you, the crowd. Now go and buy your Lions tickets for the next big event on June 1.