Hong Kong Sevens may adopt straight knockout format to make room for a women’s competition – one loss and you’re out
HKRU chief Robbie McRobbie says they are happy to go along with World Rugby’s new direction if it helps to improve and promote the sport
The Hong Kong Sevens organisers are willing to consider a knockout format for the annual tournament with World Rugby keen to bring the women’s game in line with the men’s and enhance the overall appeal of its global series.
Hong Kong Rugby Union chief executive Robbie McRobbie reacted positively to comments by World Rugby boss Brett Gosper about changing the format of all HSBC World Sevens Series tournaments after the next four-year cycle begins in 2020.
“I think it’s healthy to review the current tournament format,” McRobbie said. “It’s certainly not broken, but whether each team is playing the right number of games and whether there is a way to make it even more exciting for spectators and broadcast – why not have a look?
“The Hong Kong men’s team are playing in the World Cup Sevens next month, so we’ll have a first-hand experience of what playing and watching this new format is like.”
A knockout format means a single defeat is enough to knock a team out of the main competition. And the draw would ensure that one of the elite teams would almost always meet a weaker nation in the first round proper.
Hong Kong meet Russia in the preliminary round of July’s Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 in San Francisco, where a knockout format is being used for the first time.
Defeat would send Hong Kong to the third-tier Bowl event, while a victory would give them a last-16 clash against New Zealand. Losers in the round of 16 would move to the second-tier Challenge competition.
The Hong Kong Sevens is a pioneer for the world game, having used round-robin matches that feed into a knockout competition since the first tournament in 1976.
Gosper told Sky Sports during the London Sevens over the weekend that a knockout format was an option being looked at so that a fully fledged women’s tournament can be played side by side with the men’s event.
“That [knockout format] is something we could well find in the HSBC series in the next cycle because we’re trying to get more women’s tournaments aligning with the men’s tournaments, playing at the same time, at the same destinations which means we have got to find time and space,” said Gosper.
“We also know that the knockout format for the World Cup is brilliant for the American audience, so that sudden death will be one part of it.”
The Hong Kong Sevens, though, must also accommodate the men’s World Series qualifiers, which is played annually at the Hong Kong Stadium in addition to a women’s event.
HKRU chairman Pieter Schats suggested in April that the Hong Kong Sevens could become a four-day event to fit in four competitions – men’s and women’s main events and men’s and women’s qualifiers.
However, it appears likely that a knockout tournament would be the most practical solution.
“The Hong Kong tournament has included the men’s qualifier and more recently the women’s qualifier, so we are already mixing up the format and that works well for us,” said McRobbie.
“It’s important to remember that more teams present a practical challenge in terms of changing rooms, meeting rooms, etc, which tournament hosts need to consider.”
Gosper also suggested the creation of a second-tier series for lower-ranked countries.
“We have to develop the sevens game to other nations so we’re looking at a second-tier nations series of tournaments like we have in the top-tier level,” he said.
“The Olympics continue to develop the sport brilliantly, we know that the Olympics contribute 30 million new fans to our fanbase around the world which is exactly what the Rugby World Cup does over the six weeks in the 15s game.
“So the sevens game is really playing its role to develop those new markets like China, like Brazil, like India. It plays a very strong role, not just in sevens but 15s as well.”