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It’d be fair to assume Scottish butchers David Sanderson and Ned Haig would be impressed by a rugby sevens tournament today.

In 1883, the pair devised a novel mini-format of the 15-a-side game to raise funds for their Borders club, Melrose RFC.

Today, it’s a truly international code, packing stadiums with its nine-stage IRB World Series – which hits Twickenham in London on May 11-12 – and preparing for its debut on the biggest stage of all, the Olympics. And before that is the World Cup in Moscow in June and the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Sevens is a novelty no more.

Just like the full form, New Zealand are the benchmark in sevens, with a commanding lead in the World Series. But it’s been consistency rather than dominance that has put them there. There have been six winners in the seven tournaments so far this season in Australia, Dubai, South Africa, New Zealand, the US, Hong Kong and Japan.

The only side to have won twice is second-placed South Africa, who beat the Kiwis both times in the final. But in making the final four times and not finishing lower than third, the All Blacks are sitting pretty going into May 4-5’s Glasgow Sevens and the series finale in London the following week at the home of rugby. 

“We’ve had a pretty good season,” says All Black back Tim Mikkelson. “I suppose we’ve been the most consistent team in all the tournaments, but it’s been anything but smooth sailing for us. There are teams who’ve won one tournament but then not made the cup play-offs in the next one. Anyone can win any game, and that’s great for the sport.”

When Mikkelson says anyone, he means nations few would associate with the upper echelons of rugby. While the flair of Fiji has always been strong, the likes of Kenya and Canada are now in the reckoning.

The World Series’ top points scorer for the season is Canada’s Nathan Hiramaya. In the New Zealand tournament the hosts were relegated to third while England and Kenya fought out a tight 24-19 final.

No fluke for the Africans, they made the third and fourth play-off in Hong Kong only to lose to the All Blacks.”A lot of countries, a couple of years ago, you would have called them minnows, but now they’re forces on the IRB circuit,” Mikkelson says.

London Sevens is a rugby party fest

Along with the All Blacks and Proteas, Fiji, Samoa, France, Kenya, Wales and Argentina are all ranked above traditional giants Australia and England. Canada, Scotland and the United States aren’t far behind. Inclusion in the Olympics, announced in 2009, has taken the growth of sevens as a code to a new level, significantly because it’s made it a magnet for government funding in countries that wouldn’t normally think twice about rugby.

“With the Olympics comes more and more resources for the sport in those countries,” Mikkelson says. Even in rugby-mad New Zealand, he says sevens now gets “a lot more help”.

Purists may argue the point, but the code that used to be either a summer amusement or a chance for skillful speedsters to show their wares off to potential pro sides or international selectors, in addition to their 15-a-side performances, is now a legitimate career opportunity. Winger Julian Savea is an exception to the rule, starring for the under-20s sevens All Blacks before joining the ranks of Richie McCaw’s world champions. 

“But with the Olympics and Comm Games, a lot of the youngsters starting out can see that there could be a future in the sevens and are keen to stay around and play for a medal,” Mikkelson says.


Rugby heaven: New Zealand are top of the world in sevens, but this code is more of a world game
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