With the IRB World 7s Series thriving, rugby being reinstated in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and invitational tournaments springing up all over the world, the shorter form of the game is in rude health.
To that end, 12 rugby clubs from around the world will descend on Twickenham this weekend to compete in the inaugural World Club 7s.
Already the scene of arguably the biggest piss-up in world rugby every May when over 100,000 fancy-dress clad fans clock through the gates to drink beer while the London leg of the world series apparently goes on in the background, HQ will be a fitting backdrop.
Gloucester’s 7s team will be looking for their second piece of silverware in as many weeks after qualifying by winning the J.P. Morgan Asset Management Premiership Rugby 7s Series, getting a 7s monkey off their back in the process. The Cherry & Whites beat the Leicester Tigers 24-17 in last weekend’s final, laying to rest the demons of last year’s Series, where they let a 28-5 half-time lead in the final with London Irish slip to a 31-28 defeat.
Some big club names will join them at Twickenham including Quins, Northampton Saints, Super Rugby franchise the Brumbies and Currie Cup team the Blue Bulls. But the magic of such a tournament is the insight into how the game is developing elsewhere in the world with lesser known clubs such as San Francisco, Buenos Aires and Russian outfit Kuban Krasnodar set to feature.
Rugby’s fastest man heading to Twickenham
While some may see these teams as simply filling holes, there’s no doubt they will provide their own measure of excitement. In fact San Francisco head coach Jone Naqica may agree his side aren’t the biggest competing in the inaugural World Club 7s but he believes, with the sport now flourishing in the USA ,his squad can cause a few upsets.
Indeed San Francisco boast a squad that includes veteran 7s specialist and captain Mose Timoteo and the world’s fastest rugby player Carlin Isles who has taken the world 7s circuit by storm with his lightening pace, after failing to qualify for the London 2012 Olympic Games in the 100m. Don’t believe me? Watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gA5bwqVN5LM.
Ironically, Isles’ personal best of 10.13 would actually have seen him compete in the semi-finals at London, had he been picked, and the USA Rugby 7s side are reaping the rewards of his cross-sport switch.
Of course Isles could still realise that Olympic dream in August 2016 at the Rio Olympic Stadium and with this in the back of everyone’s mind, Naqica believes there is an added incentive for his side to stamp their authority in the game’s shorter format.
“We are really looking forward to the World Club 7s,” he chirped. “We are not that big a club compared to some of the others that will be there but we will be trying to compete with everyone.
“I think our strength is our speed on the wing, especially with Carlin in the side. We will look to use him, put him in space and hopefully we can get success. It’s a big boost to have Carlin in the team. With his speed he will give us an option for the guys around him and they can use him.
“He is one option but there are other guys like centre Jack Halalilo and scrum-half Mike Teo from the USA team who have been equally successful with their talents and we can also look to them.”
Brumbies looking to bounce back
While Naqica’s side are battling it out in a tough Pool B alongside Buenos Aires, 2013 Aviva Premiership finalists Northampton Saints and the Vodacom Blue Bulls, elsewhere in the tournament the Brumbies will be looking to bring their imperious form, which saw them reach the final of this year’s Super Rugby tournament, to London.
In fact the Brumbies, one of just three Southern Hemisphere sides selected to take part in the World Club 7s, returned to training just five days after losing out to the Chiefs in the Super Rugby final and will arrive in London with a strong squad. Winger Henry Speight, who started the final, will be joined by Colby Faingaa, Ian Prior and Andrew Smith all of whom were on the bench against the Chiefs.
The Australian side have been drawn in Pool C alongside Auckland 7s, Russian side Kuban Krasnodar and 2012 Aviva Premiership champions Harlequins who they will open up against at Twickenham on August 17.
Taking over from head coach Jake White for the 7s, is a man who knows a thing or two about attacking play; ex-Wallaby fly-half Stephen Larkham. He’ll be looking to help his side forget their 27-22 final defeat against New Zealand side the Waikato Chiefs as quickly as possible.
“Getting back into training helps get on with it and the 7s is fun and something different. It will take our minds off Super Rugby,” Larkham reflected.
“We’re in a pretty hard pool against Auckland, Harlequins and [Kuban Krasnodar],”. ”We’ve got some quality players going over and we want to win. It’s a really good initiative, there are some top teams competing in it. The beauty of rugby is that it is an international game and you get to travel and play in different parts of the world.”
Also in Pool C are Auckland 7s who have former IRB World 7s Player of the Year Orene Ai’I among their ranks.
The world of 7s has changed dramatically in the 14 years since Ai’i made his international debut for New Zealand – he represented the All Blacks from 1999 to 2005 and scored more than 600 points in international competition.
The 7s boom currently engulfing the world of rugby may have come ten years too late for Ai’i but he’ll be desperate to show class is permanent at Twickenham.