Rugby Union vs. Rugby Sevens: 5 Ways 7s Is Superior

Jeff Hull@@HullatHomeContributor IIIJanuary 18, 2013

Rugby Union vs. Rugby Sevens: 5 Ways 7s Is Superior

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    In 2010, former Welsh International and current rugby pundit, John Taylor, told ESPN of his concerns about what he saw as an increasing gap between Sevens Rugby and the traditional fifteen-a-side game.

    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... But is this extra degree of specialization good for the game? I have grave doubts. 

    Today, with the admission of Rugby Sevens in to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio, even Mr. Taylor must surely realize that the two games are now indisputably separate. While there still may be nations who, for lack of resources, occasionally call upon their Sevens athletes to play in the odd XV's fixture, the global trend is moving decisively away from that direction and towards developing a specialized talent pool for the seven-a-side game.

    With the advent of the specialized Rugby Sevens athlete, the sport has observed its fan base begin to divide into separate camps as well. So here, in this Bleacher Report exclusive, you are invited to plant your flag and state your allegiances. With the 2013 USA Sevens in Las Vegas right around the corner, its time to settle this matter, once and for all.

    Rugby Union versus Rugby Sevens.

    It's go time!

1. The Scrum

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    Last October, former Leinster and Scotland Head Coach Matt Williams spoke in the Irish Times about what many in the rugby world already knew to be true. Across the breadth of international rugby, the scrum in the XV-a-side game is an awful mess.

    There is the old saying that says “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. However scrum time is “broke”. Our lawmakers need to act, to avoid serious injury and to revive “fast ball” so a new generation can sample the joy of attacking play from scrums.

    In recent years the problem has become so obvious that various television broadcasts have taken to keeping a running tally of the amount of game time being wasted by collapsed or poorly set scrummages.

    One of the advantages the XV's game could conceivably claim is that it has the potential to hold the attention of assembled large crowds of spectators for a full 80 minutes, whereas the atmosphere in a Sevens stadium is usually far more relaxed.  However, the dreadful state of the scrum in the world of rugby union is a black-eye on the sport and a terrible thing for the passionate observer to have to endure.

    A rash new laws recently pushed through by the IRB to try to address the problem are having some effect, but are unlikely to prevent the most damning examples of the problems around the scrum, and surely won't eliminate the endless stalling that takes place while teams use the scrum to help kill off the clock.

    By contrast, a fan watching an IRB Sevens tournament can count on a thrilling match, with very few scrums and practically no pause in the action.


2. Scores and Scores of Scores

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    At first glance, defenders of the XV's game have a statistical leg to stand on when comparing the offensive output in their code to that of their Sevens brethren.  At the 2011 World Cup, there were a grand total of 262 tries scored over the course of 48 matches, for an average of 5.45 tries per match.

    Obviously, the gap between the first and second-tier nations had much to do with a lot of that scoring, which is something we'll get to in a moment; however, that number almost exactly matches the average try-scoring that took place during matches on the IRB Sevens circuit last season.

    But there the similarities end.

    In truth, modern Rugby Union defences have done much to restrain try-scoring between similarly ranked opposition. It is the frequency of scoring that must surely be the decisive factor here. During the 2011-12 IRB Sevens Season, tournament matches averaged a total of 34 points per game and tries were scored once every 79 seconds.

    Add all of that up and it spells tons of excitement for the tens of thousands of fans in attendance at IRB tournaments worldwide and the millions watching on television and on-line. 

    And while it is true that Rugby Sevens contains its share of blow-out matches as well, the structure of IRB tournaments virtually guarantees that a hard done-by nation will eventually play against a more even level of competition, as well as retain a shot at a trophy.

    A close call perhaps, but for those who enjoy watching scores rain down from every part of the field, Rugby Sevens is your game. 

3. Space Plus Speed Equals Action

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    When Rugby Union coaches started incorporating the principals and techniques of Rugby League into their defensive systems, it marked the end of many a high-scoring XV's match.

    There are, after all, only so many ways to go through, around or over a wall of 15 huge and athletic men, who do nothing but train everyday to stop you.

    It's simple math. 

    Rugby Sevens coaches once had the same fear. What has changed their game forever is the arrival of the modern Sevens athlete; men who possess the fitness of a wrestler, the speed of a 100m sprinter and the agility of an NFL running back.

    Someone like the U.S.A.'s newest miracle find, Carlin Isles. (See video)

    But where is such outstanding talent to be found? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Facebook!

    Current USA Eagles Sevens star Miles Craigwell explained to me recently how he was able to help net his country its newest scoring threat.

    It was June 1st, 2012 at 6:56am (Thanks to Facebook I was actually able to search through my messages) Carlin sent me a message on Facebook introducing himself, his high-level track experience and how he had talked to Nigel Melville about the possibility of playing rugby. Carlin said he wanted to make the switch over to rugby and asked how it was playing for the USA Seven's team. I told him that it's pretty sick! The opportunity to travel the world, play in packed stadiums, and that you also received a playing stipend while you were on tour, what's not to love!

    Isles is one of the new breed of crossover athletes to invade Rugby Sevens. He possesses a 100m time that would have placed him in the semi-finals of the London Olympic Games.

    With speed like this, the amount of space on a Sevens pitch can turn every line-break into a foot race.

    And who, may I ask, doesn't love a good footrace?

4. A Global Game

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    On Nov. 10, 2012 the Fijian national XV's side walked into Twickenham Stadium in England, and were handed a brutal 54-12 drubbing at the hands of their hosts. Just one month later, the Fijian Sevens team convincingly beat England 29-19 at the IRB Sevens event in South Africa.

    Despite the efforts of the International Rugby Board (IRB) to reduce the competitiveness gap between first and second-tier nations in Rugby Union, much work remains to be done. Indeed, the advent of domestic professional leagues may have forever changed the balance of power in the XV's game. There, national teams will breed talent at a rate directly linked to the strength of their domestic professional leagues, or lack thereof.

    The world of international Sevens, on the other hand, is designed specifically to prevent such a tragedy. 

    All who watch the world of international Sevens know that any nation capable of producing seven speedy athletes can, on their day, achieve glorious results. Some degree of specific rugby training will always be needed, but as Carlin Isles has shown us, such training need not hold an athlete back for long. 

    Does anyone doubt it will be long before nations like Jamaica (whose sprinters dominated the London Olympics) will be seen alongside the Flying Fijians on the IRB Sevens circuit?

    Such possibilities are exactly the reason why the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has made sure to welcome Rugby Sevens to the party, starting in 2016.

    And what a party it is likely to be.

5. An Olympic-Size Party

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    Rugby Sevens is a party, anyone who has attended the Wellington or Las Vegas Sevens knows that.

    While it is true that the Rugby World Cup is one of the world's greatest and most popular sporting events, there are two events that outrank it: the FIFA World Cup of soccer and Summer Olympics.

    Even the hardest of hardcore Rugby Union fans would probably admit that they would love to walk through the Olympic Villages of Rio de Janerio during the weekend of the 2016 Olympic Sevens. It should be a show unlike any other in the history of either code and will introduce the sport of rugby to audiences never before dreamed of.

    Who knows what the evolution of Rugby Sevens will look like after 2016, but the thought of it is enough to stir excitement in any rugby fan, even now.


Rugby Union vs. Rugby Sevens: Conclusion

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    With the arguments having been made, the decision and the debate now passes to you. Bleacher Report is your home for great discussion, along with all of the sporting news you can handle. 

    You've been given "seven" great slides worth of analysis, but Rugby Union fans are no doubt chomping a bit to respond.

    So weigh in with your thoughts on a debate that will surely only become bigger as the years pass.


    Jeff Hull is a contributor to Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise stated, all quotes were obtained first-hand.

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