Overhaul needed to keep slumping Sevens Series relevant as Olympics becomes pinnacle: Ben Ryan
Revered ex-Fiji coach says the amount of teams should be cut to 12 and days shortened to ensure every game is high quality
With the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens looming large, former Fiji coach Ben Ryan says changes need to be made to the World Rugby Sevens Series as it deals with its Olympic hangover.
Ryan, who led Fiji to gold in Rio last year, feels the series will eventually become a four-year warm-up for the Olympics and advocates cutting the amount of teams and revamping the tournaments to help it stay relevant.
“My view is that they should cut down the length of the days, I think they should be shorter and every tournament should have three days like the Olympics,” Ryan said.
“With Fiji we would target certain tournaments and we went for all the three-day tournaments as the big targets because the Olympics is three days.
“I would cut the core teams down to 12 to ensure higher quality and I’d bring the women in where possible.
“I know all of this is financial, but if you could have an eight-team core for the women and a 12-team core for the men, I think that would go some way to addressing some of the problems.
“Shorter, hit it hard and every game is exciting and that would make a big difference. Everything is delivering towards the Olympics now.”
Ryan, who works as a rugby ambassador for HSBC, has noticed a distinct drop-off in standards this season.
This is due in no small part to the let-down after Rio and the fact a number of sevens stars have opted to take lucrative contracts in the 15-man game.
“What the guys are finding out is that it is such a unique cycle, the first time it’s been post-Olympics,” he said.
“I’m not saying this in a disrespectful way but the standard is not as good as it was last year and in previous years.
“South Africa are miles ahead of anyone else. A lot of it is down to the quality of South Africa but it’s also down to the fact there is a lack of quality in some of the other teams.
“As we get used to being part of this Olympic family we are going to have to look at ways to address having a slump in quality.”
South Africa sit 23 points clear of second-placed England after six rounds, having won four of the six events.
England have been the big improvers this year, seemingly riding high on the back of Great Britain’s silver-medal win in Rio, but Ryan doesn’t like their chances of winning the series any time soon.
“I’ve said it for years,” Ryan said. “When I was England coach I also felt very strongly about it, what people don’t understand is the logistics and how hard it is for England, Scotland and Wales to get their best players with the power of the clubs.
“If it’s Great Britain, I think you’ve got more likelihood for the clubs to release because it’s not the RFU or the SRU or the WRU, it’s Great Britain, so it’s an independent that doesn’t have any issues with any of the clubs.
“If any home nation is ever going to win a World Series, they won’t do it as England, Scotland or Wales. England will not win the World Series as an England team; as a Great Britain team they might.”
Despite a drop in standard this season, Ryan expects the likes of Fiji and New Zealand to rise to the occasion in Hong Kong and feels the home side could be ready to take the next step and earn a berth in the World Series.
“With Paul John now as the coach, Gareth was excellent, but now they’ve got fresh eyes and ears and Paul has won a World Cup for Wales,” Ryan said.
“He is an outstanding coach and I’m sure he will change things, as every coach does, and as a result I’m sure they will add some value.”