While everyone agrees that this will be a great promotional platform for the game, the opportunities to capitalise on the Olympics and address the big issues facing Australian Rugby have been barely contemplated. Well they are now.
Think 7s and think Twenty20 cricket.
Hordes of new fans and money are flooding into the game, especially at provincial level. Sure, at the moment the traditional format is threatened. But it’s early days and driven by the players’ desire for a better balance between desire and cash ultimately Twenty20 will become the lifeblood of Test cricket. The rugby implications are immense.
The current Rugby 7s focus is on a barely noticed IRB world tour featuring players not good enough for their states and provinces. Sure, that means minnow nations like Kenya, Samoa and especially Fiji can stand toe-to-toe with the big boys.
But in Australia’s case, no-name players running around Adelaide Oval don’t inspire the kiddies in the states where they actually play rugby or the others for that matter.
So let’s get our top players playing 7s in a full-blown made for TV rugby carnival.
Play it over, say, two weeks, before or after the Super 15s or even over a few mid-week evenings over a couple of weeks to avoid clashes with other sports (during the Test season if need be, but ideally you’d want your Test stars involved).
The first (qualifying) round can feature the clubs of Queensland and NSW playing locally (Ballymore and the SFS) to represent their states the following weekend/week in the second (finals) round against the other states.
So, for example, the top three NSW and Queensland clubs, plus players from the Force, Brumbies and Rebels (or whatever they will be called), and give those teams access to their rostered players whose clubs don’t qualify for the finals.
If the NSWRU and QRU feel miffed, they aren’t represented then they can include their Junior (seconds) sides from their playing rosters (if not required by their club).
The less broadcaster-attractive qualifying (club) round could be played during kiddie-friendly times during the day on a weekend free of club and Super 15 rugby, with the finals played mid-week (maybe over two nights).
The beauty of this competition is:
- tribal club followers can get involved (all of them in the first round)
- existing club and state / province administrative structures are utilised
- travel and accommodation expenses are minimised
- extra content is generated for TV rights holders (ideally free-to-air of course) so extra revenue for the ARU and other unions – all should receive a proportion
- a larger pool of players aiming to get an Olympics spot get to demonstrate their wares to selectors
- club coaches go head-to-head with provincial coaches
- the simple format generates increasing interest (hype) over the two weeks so is highly media friendly
- Rugby 7s is inherently attractive to non-rugby followers so will feed into more interest in the traditional format