Rugby sevens (commonly known simply as sevens) is a variant of rugby union in which teams are made up of seven players playing seven minute halves, instead of the usual 15 players playing 40 minute halves. Rugby sevens is administered by World Rugby, the body responsible for rugby union worldwide. The game is popular at all levels, with amateur and club tournaments generally held in the summer months. Sevens is one of the most well distributed forms of rugby, and is popular in parts of Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, and especially in the South Pacific.
Rugby sevens originated in Melrose, Scotland in the 1880s; the Melrose Sevens tournament is still played annually. The popularity of rugby sevens increased further with the development of the Hong Kong Sevens in the 1970s, and the World Rugby Sevens Series in 1999—a series of seven to twelve tournaments played each year from approximately November to May. Since 2016, rugby sevens has been contested in the Summer Olympics, and it has also been played in regional events such as the Commonwealth Games and Pan American Games.
Rugby sevens is sanctioned by World Rugby, and is played under similar laws (with exceptions noted below) and on a field of the same dimensions as the 15 player game. While a regular rugby union match lasts at least 80 minutes, a normal sevens match consists of two halves of seven minutes with a two-minute half-time break. The final of a competition can be played over two halves of ten minutes each. (In the World Rugby Sevens Series, only the Cup final, which determines the overall winner of an event, is played with 10 minute halves; all finals for lower-level trophies are played with 7 minute halves.) Sevens scores are generally comparable to regular rugby scores, but scoring occurs much more frequently in sevens, since the defenders are more spaced out. The scoring system is the same as regular rugby union, namely five points for a try, three points for a drop goal (whether from penalty or open play) and two points for a post-try conversion.
The shorter match length allows rugby sevens tournaments to be completed in a day or a weekend. Many sevens tournaments have a competition for a cup, a plate, a bowl, and a shield, allowing many teams of different standards to avoid leaving empty-handed.
Sevens tournaments are traditionally known for having more of a relaxed atmosphere than fifteen-a-side games, and are often known as "festivals". Sevens tournaments gained their "popularity as an end of season diversion from the dourer and sterner stuff that provides the bulk of a normal season's watching." Fans frequently attend in fancy dress, and entertainment is put on for them.
The Hong Kong Sevens tournament has been especially important in popularising the game in Asia, and rugby sevens has been important as a form of international rugby "evangelism", hence is perhaps the most widely played form of the game, with tournaments in places as far apart as Bogota and Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Kenya, Singapore and Scandinavia, as well as the countries in which rugby union is well known.
Sevens is played on a standard rugby union playing field as defined in the World Rugby handbook. The field measures up to 100 metres (330 ft) long and 70 metres (230 ft) wide. On each goal line are H-shaped goal posts. The goal post are on the goal line. This is unlike American football in which their posts are behind the back of the goal line.
Teams are composed of three forwards and four backs. Scrums are composed of three players from each team. Because of the speedy nature of the game, sevens players are often backs or loose forwards in fifteens rugby.
Substitutes are like the 15-player game, but with only five subs on the bench.
There are several variations in laws which apply to rugby sevens, primarily to speed up the game and to account for the reduced number of players. The main changes can be summarised as follows:
Rugby sevens was initially conceived in 1883 by Ned Haig and David Sanderson, who were butchers from Melrose, Scotland as a fund-raising event for their local club, Melrose RFC. The first-ever sevens match was played at The Greenyards, the Melrose ground, where it was well received. Two years later, Tynedale was the first non-Scottish club to win one of the Borders Sevens titles at Gala in 1885.
Despite sevens' popularity in the Borders, it did not catch on elsewhere until the 1920s and 1930s. The first sevens tournaments outside Scotland were held in 1921. In north east England, the Percy Park Sevens was held at North Shields. Because it was near to the Scottish Borders, it attracted interest from the code's birthplace, and the final was contested between Selkirk (who won) and Melrose (who were runners up). The same year, the Buenos Aires Football Club hosted a rugby sevens tournament in Argentina.
In 1926, England's major tournament, the Middlesex Sevens was set up by Dr J.A. Russell-Cargill, a London-based Scot. One of the key events in the spread of sevens to England was the Middlesex Sevens, which had some formidable figures on its sub-committee such as Wavell Wakefield and Bill Ramsay. The Middlesex Sevens were also a great fundraiser for charity, and in 1926, they raised £1,600 for King Edward VII Hospital, at a time when standard admission was a shilling, and stand seats cost five shillings.
A 1927 description of the game at the Middlesex Sevens (also for King Edward Hospital) gives an idea of the novelty of the game to English people:
Whereas the Scottish Borders were a rural area, the Middlesex Sevens were near the suburbs of London, which was home to millions. 10,000 spectators attended the second Middlesex tournament. While the Border Sevens had honed the skills of players in the Scottish rugby heartland, the Middlesex Sevens did likewise for London rugby, with locally based players such as the aforementioned Wavell Wakefield, Carl Aarvold (later Recorder of the City of London) of Blackheath FC, Wick Powell of London Welsh RFC, and John Tallent, who would later become chairman of the Four Home Unions Tours Committee. They rubbed shoulders with various invitation sides such as Sale RFC in 1936, which included such players as Wilf Wooller and Claude Davey of Wales and Ken Fyfe of Scotland amongst their backs; and in 1939, Cardiff RFC, which included players such as Wilf Wooller again, and Les Spence and Wendy Davis.
The first-ever officially sanctioned tournament for national teams was the 1973 International Seven-A-Side Tournament held at Murrayfield as part of the "Scottish Rugby Union's Celebration of Rugby" centenary celebrations.
Due to the success of the format, the ongoing Hong Kong Sevens was launched three years later, in 1976.
The Scottish connection continued in the establishment of the Hong Kong Sevens in the 1970s, founded largely by expats such as "Tokkie" Smith, and in England, London Scottish RFC was strongly involved in the Middlesex Sevens from the start. The Hong Kong Sevens were ahead of their time and an influential force in the modernisation of rugby union. For example, the Hong Kong Sevens were one of the first rugby union tournaments to attract major sponsorship when the airline Cathay Pacific sponsored the 1976 tournament. They also provided a level of cosmopolitan international competition, which tended not to exist in rugby before the first Rugby World Cup in 1987, especially since Hong Kong was not seen as one of the "Big Eight", and other than some involvement with France, the British Commonwealth teams tended to be notoriously clannish. By 1986, the Hong Kong Sevens were held up as a positive example to others:
However, despite this apparent diversity, some of the same old problems which had dogged international rugby were still manifest in the Hong Kong Sevens in the 1980s – for example, in a photograph of the Hong Kong vs. Bahrain game at the tournament in 1984, the teams do not appear to include anyone who is ethnically Arab or Chinese; instead both teams are quite clearly of northern European ethnic origin.
The Rugby World Cup Sevens, in which the Melrose Cup is contested, was launched in 1993.
Rugby sevens continues to be popular in the Scottish Borders, where the ten most prestigious of these tournaments make up a league competition known as the "Radio Borders Kings of the Sevens". In honour of the role of Melrose RFC in the creation of rugby sevens, the club was inducted along with Haig to the IRB Hall of Fame, now folded into the World Rugby Hall of Fame, in 2008.
Sevens has also taken strong root in the South Sea island nations of Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa, as well as the African nation of Kenya. In many minor rugby nations, such as the case of rugby union in Poland, development has tended to concentrate on rugby sevens as a means of introducing the sport to people. Rugby sevens has become popular in places such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai, which are not so successful in the full fifteen-a-side code. In addition, seven of the 15 current "core teams" that compete in all legs of the World Series represent nations that are not within the recognised top tier of the 15-man game — Fiji, Samoa, Kenya, the United States, Canada, Portugal, and Japan. Recently there has been the introduction of many new teams to the sevens circuit such as Ireland, Russia, Germany and countries where rugby sevens wouldn't be considered a main sport.
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The World Series has been held every season since the 1999–2000 inaugural season. Each season the Sevens Series holds from seven to eleven tournaments, usually starting around November and concluding around May. Most tournaments see 16 teams competing — mostly "core teams" that participate in each event, but also some teams that win the right to participate in select events.
New Zealand has been the dominant force in the Sevens Series, winning 12 out of the 18 seasons, including the first six seasons from 1999–2000 to 2004–05. In recent years, however, several other teams have challenged New Zealand's dominance. Fiji won the Series in 2005–06 and again in 2014–15 and 2015–16; South Africa won in 2008–09 and 2016-17; and Samoa claimed the 2009–10 crown. Other strong contenders include England and Australia, each of whom have had several top four finishes in recent seasons. The 2015 London Sevens, saw the United States win their first-ever tournament in the World Series.
Notable World Series players include England's Dan Norton, who has scored more tries (>230) than any other player; and England's Ben Gollings, who has scored more points (2,652) than any other player.
Prior to inclusion in Olympics rugby sevens was part of World Games four times from 2001 until 2013.
The International Olympic Committee voted in 2009 to include rugby sevens on the program for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There were two open spots for sports and initially seven sports began the bidding for inclusion in the 2016 program. The event debuted in an Olympic program at the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics.
Two issues related to differences between the structures of rugby union and the Olympics were sorted out before the 2016 Olympic Games. The issue of a combined British team has proven less of a problem in rugby union. WR chief executive Mike Miller endorsed the concept of a combined British sevens team in 2011 for the 2016 Olympics and beyond. Another issue is the status of Northern Ireland. World Rugby recognises the Irish Rugby Football Union as the sport's governing body for the entire island of Ireland. By contrast, the International Olympic Committee recognises the British Olympic Association as the governing body of the UK Olympic team, while the Olympic Council of Ireland usually fields teams representing all of Ireland in case of sports organised on an all-Ireland basis. Northern Irish sevens players play for the Irish team.
In the men's competition Fiji took the gold medal in the sport's Olympic debut, with Great Britain taking the silver and South Africa the bronze. The women's gold medal was taken by Australia, with New Zealand taking silver and Canada bronze.
The Rugby World Cup Sevens is held every four years. It had been the highest prize in the sevens version of rugby union until the introduction of rugby at the 2016 Summer Olympics. Fiji and New Zealand are the most successful, having each won two out of the six World Cups. However, due to the introduction of sevens to the Olympics in 2016, the Olympics is now viewed as the most high-profile rugby sevens tournament. Beginning with the 2018 edition, the World Cup Sevens will be held in the middle of the Summer Olympic cycle (i.e., in the same year as the Winter Olympics).
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Rugby sevens is played at various regional multi-sport competitions, including the Asian Games and the Pacific Games. Rugby union was formerly played at the World Games, but this has ceased as rugby is now an Olympic sport.
Rugby sevens has been played at each of the Commonwealth Games every four years since its first appearance at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Rugby sevens is now considered a "Core" sport by the Commonwealth Games Federation, necessitating its appearance at all future games. The New Zealand team has won the gold medal four times with South Africa winning the tournament at Glasgow 2014 beating the defending champions in the final. Through the 2014 Games in Glasgow, it was the last remaining male-only sport at the Commonwealth Games, after women's boxing was added for those Games. Women's sevens will make its Commonwealth Games debut in the 2018 Games.
Men's rugby sevens at the Pan American Games has been held every four years since the 2011 Pan American Games, with Canada, Argentina, and the United States placing for medals each time. Women's rugby sevens was later added to the program for the 2015 Pan American Games.
The Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series serves as a regional qualifier for two types of tournaments. The top two finishing teams each year who are not core members of the World Rugby Sevens Series advance to the Hong Kong Sevens, the qualifying tournament for teams vying to achieve core team status in the World Rugby Sevens Series. The Europe Grand Prix also serves as a regional qualifier for major quadrennial tournaments, such as the summer Olympics and the Rugby World Cup Sevens.
In Europe, Portugal has been dominating in sevens during the Championship era (2002-10); only twice the team did not win the trophy, in 2007 and 2009, when both times the championships were won by Russia.
Women's rugby sevens has been dominated by New Zealand, with either the New Zealand team (1999–2001) or Aotearoa Maori Women's Rugby sevens team (playing as New Zealand), winning the annual Hong Kong Sevens tournament from 1997 until 2007. The United States won the Hong Kong Sevens in 2008 by defeating Canada in the final (New Zealand failed to send a team).
The inaugural Women's Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament took place in Dubai together with the men's tournament during the first weekend of March 2009. England defeated Canada 12–0 in the Bowl final while Australia edged New Zealand 15–10 in extra-time to become the first to win the Women's Rugby World Cup.
WR, then known as the International Rugby Board (IRB), organised its first official women's sevens tournament outside of the World Cup as part of the 2011 Dubai Sevens. This was part of a plan to launch a full IRB International Women's Sevens Series for 2012–13. The international series was officially christened as the IRB Women's Sevens World Series in an IRB announcement on 4 October 2012. The series, as planned, launched for the 2012–13 season and initially featured events in Dubai, the USA, China and the Netherlands. Two additional events were planned for the 2013–14 series, but in the end only one of these events, in Brazil, took place. For the 2014–15 series, China dropped from the schedule, while Canada and England hosted new events. The series was rechristened for 2014–15 as the World Rugby Women's Sevens Series, following the November 2014 renaming of the IRB as World Rugby. The 2015–16 series included only five events; the England and Netherlands events were dropped and an event in France was added. The 2016–17 series returned to six events with the launch of an event in Japan.
Women's rugby sevens was included in the 2016 Olympic Games due to the IRB's successful bid to reintroduce rugby to the Summer games. Australia claimed the gold medal for the event, beating New Zealand in the final with a score of 24-17. Canada claimed the bronze medal after beating Great Britain 33-10 in the third place play-off. WR also successfully pushed for the inclusion of women's sevens in the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Although sevens has proven a commercial and competitive success, sevens is starting to become divorced from the 15-man game. Former Wales international and current pundit John Taylor wrote in 2010 that sevens
|“||...is in danger of becoming a totally separate game. Ben Ryan, who coached both the England Sevens and the Fiji Sevens, dismisses the idea that it should be seen mainly as a development tool. A few years ago players would spend a year or two with the Sevens squad to improve their running and passing skills. Many international players refined their game on the Sevens circuit including all-time greats such as Jonah Lomu.
That is happening less and less. Players have to make a choice: Do they want to concentrate on Sevens or 15s? The techniques and training required are becoming very different. Modern professional players are already pretty lean but the forwards in 15-a-side do need bulk as well. In Sevens that is not required and new training regimes are making body fat levels even lower so they are not able to transfer from one game to the other.
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World Rugby Sevens Series
Other Sevens tournaments