Sevens & XVs: A Match Made in Development


by Jason Graves 

I am always amazed to hear pundits say or bloggers write that Sevens and XV's cannot and should not co-exist. I've heard some call into question the appointment of USA Sevens head coach (HC) Mike Friday as the 15-aside's attack coach   Just because he's the Sevens HC has no bearing on his abilities as an attack coach. I don't think many would question Ohio State HC Urban Meyer being hired as offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears, the man knows football and Mike Friday knows rugby. Is Mike Friday the right man for either job? Ask some and they say no but his qualifications for the two positions are not the subject of this post but simply a relevant example of the Sevens and XV's crossover and coinciding argument.  In this post I'm going to explain how Sevens and XV's not only can co-exist, but should co-exist, and actually benefit each other and rugby growth in the US. 

First off, I'm going to state the obvious; there are 7-aside in Sevens which just so happens to be the number of backs in XV's.  Now, is this what Ned Haig envisioned 133 years ago in Melrose, Scotland?  Unlikely as the design of Sevens came as a fundraising event for his local club Melrose RFC (@MelroseRugby). Not that what I'm suggesting is a huge breakthrough in thought or even original, it's just an idea whose time has come…again. Most international teams once used Sevens as a developmental tool for their XV's squad but many Sevens programs have grown apart from their bigger brother. I say it's time to bring back the relationship but make it mutual. 

Sevens sharpens passing skill, catching ability, run-and-react quickness, eye-hand coordination, as well as a proficiency many backs don't get an opportunity to hone…open field one-on-one tackle technique. Sevens takes stamina as well as heart and can be used to divide those with advanced ability and potential from those pure recreational players, in other words…Sevens will make you put up or shut up. 

I don't understand the recent shift away from Sevens as a developmental pathway to XV's. That said, I understand the differences between the two, I understand that some athletes like Perry Baker and Carlin Isles would have to alter their skills that make them so good at Sevens in order to be effective at XV's but those are not the ruggers I'm talking about. There will always be players who are simply Sevens and others who are strictly XV's and that's great as both codes are separate but similar enough. No, the ruggers I'm referring to are the ones who, first, want to play XV's and, second, can play XV's. Here are 5 examples of US eligible players and their international XV's comparisons, this is not a comparison of skill but of positional size:

1. Matai Leuta (USAR) plays outside center and at 6'2"/233lbs is comparable in to England XV's Center Ben Te'o (6'2"/235lbs)

2. Russell Webb (Cal Bears) plays fly-half and at 5'8"/171lbs is comparable to All Black scrum-half Aaron Smith (5'7"/187lbs)

3. Brett Willis (Glendale Raptors) plays back and at 6'4"/220lbs is comparable to Welsh XV's winger George North (6'4"/240)

4. Cameron Troxler (LSU Tigers) plays center/fly-half at 6'1"/190lbs is comparable to Irish XV's fly-half Joey Carbery (6'0"/190lbs)

5. Sam Chapman (Lindenwood Lions) plays center at 6'0/182lbs and is comparable to Wallabie Reece Hodge (6'2"/207lbs)

These 5 players (and many many more) would and have benefited from playing Sevens and are easily converted to XV's. Does it promise success? No, of course not but it offers to further develop rugby skill and stamina.

Not just players but coaches benefit. Many college and club skippers coach both Sevens and XV's; coaching both provides opportunities to experience different styles of attack and defensive philosophies. 

Sevens can be used as a bridge between top recreational club and elite/professional club squads for backs; with 23 game ready ruggers every week Sevens gives a club the ability to keep 12 backs game ready as well. When you add a B-side that most elite clubs have you end up with about 20 game ready backs week to week.

So what about the front 8, how does Sevens help them? Sevens can produce freak XV's forwards like Fijian Leone Nakarawa (6'7"/269lbs) and with the athletic basketball players in the US certainly we have a Nakarawa out there somewhere. Imagine if LeBron James grew up dreaming about playing for the Cleveland Crusaders (@CLECrusaders) not the Cavaliers or Kevin Durant grew up to play for his hometown West Potomac RFC (@WESTPOTRUGBY) instead of in the NBA.  Yes, the draw to the NBA and NFL for top tier athletes is huge but there are certainly some that can be converted. The fact that rugby lost former Oklahoma State basketball player Mason Cox (6'11"/240lbs) to Aussie Rules Football is an absolute shame and an indication of just how important a professional competition is to the future success of USA Rugby. Sevens could have been his gateway to XV's. 

Sevens hasn't changed much over the last century plus; yes, players are getting faster and some are focusing solely on Sevens and that's fine but to treat them as though they are not interchangeable is ridiculous. If Nate Ebner can play Sevens and be an NFL safety/special teamer then Sevens can surly be used to develop XV's ruggers. 

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