Golden time for Sevens
The inclusion of Sevens in the 2016 Olympic Games was a "defining moment" for a sport that continues to roll back boundaries in interest and growth.
The inclusion of Sevens in the 2016 Olympic Games was a "defining moment" for a sport that continues to roll back boundaries in interest and growth, according to IRB chief executive officer Brett Gosper.
Speaking ahead of the June 28-30 World Cup Sevens in Moscow, Gosper said the abbreviated form of the game was a portal for many people in non-traditional markets into the more complex 15-a-side version.
"It's a very easy sell," said the Australian, who enjoyed a successful career as both a senior advertising executive and former player with the Paris-based Racing club before taking up his role with the International Rugby Board.
"It's a very good time for rugby: Olympics, Sevens growth and 15-a-side growth, and the World Cup is very strong."
Gosper mentioned that Sevens' inclusion at the Rio Games was: "Definitely a defining moment because of the money that comes into the game through national Olympic committees and the intent of those countries to compete globally.
"The way the Olympics has as its' objectives the universality of the game is a huge push for sevens, 15-a-side and rugby in general. Sevens will get a lot of that impetus, but we're finding 15-a-side is playing a role as shop window, it's all good," he added.
Gosper said the fact the sixth edition of the World Cup Sevens was being held in the Russian capital was significant.
"We're taking rugby to a non-traditional market, which is always great for development and interest, it's very exciting for us," he said, predicting that traditional Olympic heavyweights such as Russia and the United States were now focusing more attention on the sport.
"The Sevens games in Russia is now on the school curriculum because it's an Olympic sport, so there's a huge interest and growth in the game and you'll see that in the level played by Russian teams, both men and women, which has come on in recent years.
"We're going to see Russia and the USA coming on leaps and bounds."
He added: "We're also seeing some countries you wouldn't expect to be in orbit of top nations. They can all beat each other.
"The gaps between the top side and the next level down is much tighter. Holland women are in the top five, Brazil the top 10. The intensity is growing in competitiveness."
The beauty of Sevens, a high-octane game played on a full pitch over two seven-minute halves and involving first-class skills and handling, and some of the speediest players in the sport, was its spectacular simplicity, Gosper said.
"Sevens has the ability to compete with sport sometimes where 15-a-side can't. It's a very easy viewing sport and it's a very good introduction to get people into the rugby game.
"15-a-side is more complex, more of a connoisseur's market and Sevens is providing a great introduction in allowing people to get more interested in 15-a-side.
"There's definitely an opportunity open there for rugby as a strong competitor to the continuous easy-on-the-eye flowing sports that require slightly less understanding than perhaps the 15-a-side game," he mentioned.
Gosper added that he thought it likely many top-drawer 15-a-side players would re-schedule their careers in a bid for Olympic gold.
"In the year's build-up some players will want to make the change and some are planning their own programme so they qualify in their final year.
"Some players like Sonny Bill Williams are announcing themselves available and I think there'll be other players who will not want to miss the opportunity to be a medal chance, represent their country at the Olympics, which for most people is the pinnacle," he said.