By Staff Writer
Olympic-winning coach Ben Ryan is adamant rugby sevens will benefit from the launch of a new version of the sport, Rugby X, having been forced to defend the concept amid skeptical sentiment on social media.
Ryan, who led Fiji Sevens to Olympic men’s gold in Rio 2016, has played a major role in designing the new five-a-side game – a shorter version of the sport that is played indoors and has received the backing of World Rugby.
The first tournament will take place at the O2 in London on October 29 with Ryan insisting Rugby X will help to boost the popularity of rugby in all formats, with sevens players set to benefit from more money pumped into the sport.
After Rugby X was announced in late April, a representative of South Africa Sevens social media group blitzbokke7s expressed concern over the possible redistribution of commercial value away from sevens, writing: “Must admit, the little I know bout the format, I fail to see how it ‘will benefit 7s’ as per @benjaminryan.
“All I see so far is possible diluting of commercial/broadcast spend on 7s, a successful model we’ve spent more than a decade on building. That said, I’m open for counter…”
What is RugbyX? Find out more here: 👇 pic.twitter.com/izCpBdbKEv
— RugbyX (@RugbyXOfficial) April 28, 2019
Ryan responded by writing: “I wouldn’t be doing it if I don’t think it would benefit the 7s game. One of the biggest upsides are the players will significantly improve their salaries so 7s will retain the best and attract more players too as a consequence.”
Rugby X is played on a 32m x 55m indoor pitch with five players on each team and each match is 10 minutes with no half time. There will be rolling substitutes, uncontested three-player scrums, no conversions, no line-outs and restarts after a try are taken from the goal-line instead of the half-way line.
The world’s elite rugby players, but this time they’re indoors. pic.twitter.com/ho4QMjC1Lr
— RugbyX (@RugbyXOfficial) April 27, 2019
Ryan told the BBC that the shorter game may have a similar impact as T20 has done in cricket, which has taken the version to lucrative heights thanks to various leagues sprouting around the world led by the Indian Premier League.
“That’s the plan,” Ryan was quoted as saying when talking about Rugby X’s potential impact. “If you look at 15s as being your five-day test matches, and the one-day internationals being sevens, and Twenty20 being Rugby X; I can see that happening.
“We are not clashing with sevens tournaments or 15s tournaments. I see it as a vital tool that can help the sevens.
I wouldn’t be doing it if I don’t think it would benefit the 7s game. One of the biggest upsides are the players will significantly improve their salaries so 7s will retain the best and attract more players too as a consequence
— Ben Ryan (@benjaminryan) April 27, 2019
“It is going to be a little more like an NBA game, where in every moment of dead time, supporters are going to be entertained. There is going to be lights and music, and international Olympic athletes. It is just going to be a great event and a lot of fun.”
Ryan also had to defend Rugby X against a number of social media users who questioned why another shorter version of rugby was needed when they felt sevens was already doing a fine job.
“It’s easy to dismiss something when you don’t know the detail or how it’s going to help the 7s game,” Ryan said. “You’re missing my point. Rugby X will help both [sevens and 15s]. More finances coming into sevens game and more younger supporters being attracted to both 15s and 7s.”
Rugby Sevens is gaining in popularity around the world and has already been embraced by the Olympic movement, making its debut at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The HSBC World Sevens Series is growing every year, especially among women, and the next four-year cycle sees the number of women’s tournaments increase from six to eight.
Ryan is one of the most recognised sevens personalities in the game, having coached England and Fiji. His poignant 2018 book, Sevens Heaven: The Beautiful Chaos of Fiji’s Olympic Dream is considered one of the best rugby books ever written.
Big fan of this and good to see @benjaminryan at the helm. It will be a great spectacle and will no doubt engage old and new rugby fans alike! Anyone fancy taking on @fijirugby🤔?! https://t.co/v2uPZ5CVwn
— Rob Vickerman (@robvickerman) April 26, 2019
World series commentator Rob Vickerman said he was looking forward to the launch of Rugby X and praised Ryan’s role in its development.
He wrote: “Big fan of this and good to see @benjaminryan at the helm. It will be a great spectacle and will no doubt engage old and new rugby fans alike! Anyone fancy taking on @fijirugby🤔?!”