SEVENS HISTORY: SEVENS ASCENDANT – Part IV
By Allyn freeman
The Hong Kong Sevens benefitted from newly found appeal to a global television sports audience, most of whom had never witnessed sevens play. Instead of a 90-minute slog of rugby fifteens with numerous scrums and lineouts, sevens moved up and down the pitch in constant motion. Tries were abundant, and often from long end of field to opposing try line scores. No points from penalty kicks. A mandatory drop kick for conversion.
In the 1990s, as the popularity of sevens proliferated, the International Rugby Board (now World Rugby), scheduled satellite tournaments starting in 1999-2000. These events encompassed different world areas, and were always regionally scheduled during two consecutive weekends. They tournaments were spaced to run from December to May. The current ten-event international line up:
1. Africa – Emirates and South Africa
2. Antipodes – Australia and New Zealand
3. North America – USA and Canada
4. Asia – Hong Kong and Singapore
5. Europe – England and France
Other nations in each of the areas have been invited to play in the regional contests. These included Spain, Portugal, Russia, South Korea, Japan, Chile, Mexico, Uruguay, and Papua New Guinea. The 2022-2023 event will mark the 24th in World Rugby’s Sevens circuit.
Sevens produced a cadre of visible and memorable try scoring stars. First, from Fiji, came Waisale Serevi, the Magician, universally regarded as the best sevens player of all time. From England emerged Ben Gollings, who led scoring for four years, garnering 220 tries in his career. Others standouts of note have been Collins Injera from Kenya (279), Dan Norton from England (358), Cecil Afrika from South Africa (179), and the American speedsters, Perry Baker (229) and Carlin Isles (217).
Placements in events accumulated points in each tournament. The team with the most points at the end of the season claimed the World Rugby Sevens title. New Zealand dominated at the beginning, winning six events in a row from 1999-2000 to 2004-2005. The Kiwis have won 13 times, Springboks 4, Fiji 4, Australia and Samoa victors in one tournament each. The USA finished second in 2018-2019, their highest placement. Canada achieved one third-place finish.
The Women’s series of sevens play began officially in 2012-2013. There have been nine tournaments total with all victories from either New Zealand (6) or Australia (3). The circuit features six events played in Dubai, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, and France. Canada have earned six third place finishes. USA achieved a runner up result in 2018-2019.
The World Rugby Women’s Sevens produced its own set of standout players, including, Portia Woodman (NZ), Emilee Cherry (Aus), Ghislane Landry (Can), and Americans Alev Kelter and Naya Tapper. The 2022-2023 Women’s tournament will mark the 10th in the series.
In Rome, in October 2009, Andrea Cimbrico, Head of Media for the Italian Rugby Federation streamed the meeting of the International Olympic Committee. That day, the IOC in Copenhagen, voted to add rugby sevens as a new sport to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Within minutes of the tally, Cimbrico’s cell phone buzzed with congratulatory calls from Italian sports journalists. All predicted the Olympic introduction of the popular sevens variety would increase rugby’s global awareness.
Rugby had last appeared as an Olympic entry in 1924 when the USA beat France for the gold medal in Paris. But all subsequent international city hosts of the Summer Games rejected the sport, citing its lack of world-wide interest, and claiming, accurately, it’s appeal was limited to a few countries. Additionally, in 1987, rugby scheduled its first Rugby World Cup played every four-years when one nation was crowned champion. (Next Cup is France 2023.)
World Rugby realized it was futile to approach the IOC with fifteens. But rugby sevens offered positive Olympic attributes; (1) A sport for women and men, and (2) The probability of the participation of lesser known nations like Fiji. The 2009 Olympic vote to admit rugby was encouraged by the IOC Chairman, Jacques Rogge, a frequent rugby cap for Belgium, and Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands who played rugger as a sixth form student in Wales.
The historic cachet of the Olympics now extended to the sport of rugby. Rugby playing nations reset plans to field teams for the 2016 Rio Games. New and realistic dual goals grew into the dream of playing in an Olympiad, and also winning a medal for one’s country.
In Rio 2016, Fiji Men were triumphant, winning the country’s first ever Olympic medal (gold). Australia bested New Zealand for the Women’s title. Millions in the global television audience viewed rugby for the first time. In Tokyo 2020, Fiji Men repeated, beating arch rival New Zealand. The NZ Black Ferns defeated French Women for the gold. The television ratings for rugby sevens increased. The next Summer Olympics will be in Paris in 2024.
The Odd Prize Structure
Perhaps to distinguish rugby from the recognizable gold, silver, bronze trio of Olympic medals, Sevens tournaments created a different and separate four tier hierarchy of awards. These are Cup, Plate, Bowl, and Shield. Confusion has since reigned for the explanation for these peculiar choices, and why, the awarding of these disparate objects, exists in that order.
Rugby Today, the online magazine, invited readers to submit a mnemonic phrase to remember the grouping of these trophies. A few submissions follow:
- Canadian Pacific’s Banff Station
- Cuddly Panda Bear Snuggles
- Coke Pepsi Bottled Soda
- Chili Peppers Boost Salsa
The winner was chosen less for its ability to recall these awards correctly, but more so because of its cold cuts whimsy: Capicola, Pastrami, Bologna, Salami. Contrive your own.