Home Sport Is the new Sevens KO format a good idea?

Is the new Sevens KO format a good idea?


While the main reason for the Rugby World Cup Sevens’ sudden death format is meritorious, it adds too much levity to such a major event.

Kenya’s Bush Mwale (right) watches as South Africa’s Impi Visser (centre bottom) holds aloft teammate Siviwe Soyizwapi during Match 19 of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series at Twickenham Stadium. Picture: Jonathan Brady, PA Wire, PA Images, BackpagePix

Cape Town – While the main reason for the Rugby World Cup Sevens’ sudden death format is meritorious, it adds too much levity to such a major event.

In Cape Town from September 9-11, teams will have to win every game in order to have a chance of lifting the Melrose Cup.

At the last RWC Sevens, the women’s games were initially set to be played at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, a smaller Major League Soccer venue.

That plan was dropped in order to treat the men and women equally and give the women’s sides the same opportunity to play on the big stage at AT&T Park. A normal pool format over three days was considered unwieldy by organisers, so the knock-out format was introduced.

Speed, skill and boss-level fitness are king in this Sevens, and between evenly-matched sides especially, one slipped tackle, one unfavourable bounce of the unpredictable ball, can decide the outcome of a game.

But there is always time, at least, to recover from such mishaps when playing in the World Sevens Series, or any tournament with a regular format.

Now one can argue that it adds a different element to the game; that it makes it more gripping; that it places a greater emphasis on mental readiness, adapting and cutting down errors; that professional teams should be able to handle anything. But it makes the outcome of the event feel like more of a fortuitous one.

No other major Sevens tournament is played like that, so why change it for the World Cup?

Sometimes team start slowly – we’ve seen it from the Blitzboks many times – and go on to be victorious in a match or tournament anyway (the Springboks at the 2019 World Cup in Japan are a good example, albeit in the 15-man code).

The regular format not only ensures that teams have a chance to recover from misfortune, but it also just feels more fair considering how long teams prepare for it. Anything can influence a single game, and imagine if a team – especially one of the big guns – gets knocked out thanks to an officiating error, for example?

Add another day to allow for the regular format, or have the men’s and women’s World Cups completely separately (although a possible concern there would probably be that the women’s event won’t be as well supported, so that concern is erased by having them play at the same event as the men).

Point is, the RWC Sevens is a massive showpiece and it should be treated as such.

If the same concept applied to Fifteens, the Boks never would have celebrated their history-making triumph after their opener against the All Blacks.

The focus needs to be on the integrity of the event as opposed to just cramming as much as possible into three days.

The RWC Sevens is one of the biggest events in the sport, not a game of Blackjack, so it shouldn’t be treated as such.


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