Rugby was reintroduced in the Olympic schedule at Rio 2016 Olympics. But this was a shorter, faster, more furious version of the game that originated at the English public school in the town of ‘Rugby’ that lent its name to the sport.
Sevens, as the name would suggest, is played between two teams of seven, as opposed to the traditional 15-a-side format. Even though it is played on a field with the same dimension as the 15s, each half in this format lasts seven minutes instead of the usual 40 minutes.
“It is a more conducive version of the sport for things like the Olympic Games as opposed to the 15-a-side format,” former India rugby captain Nasser Hussain to the Olympic Channel
“Basically Sevens is a quicker, faster, more exciting version of the sport. From an Indian perspective, it is like the Twenty 20 of cricket. It also has been part of multi-sport events, like Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, regional South East Asian Games, things like that.
“It’s a shorter version, so each team can play two or three matches a day. A 16 or 24 team tournament would get over in three days.”
Rugby had been a part of the modern Olympics early on, debuting as a full medal sport at the Paris 1900 Games. But the sport was not played after the 1924 Games and it would be almost a century before rugby, in any form, would return to the grandest of stages.
Rugby sevens, with its thrill-a-minute appeal, was also brought into the Olympic fold.
In 2009, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted to include sevens in the Rio 2016 Games.
Even as sevens paved the way for the game into the Olympics, the inclusion in the quadrennial event has helped it enter new markets.
“Sevens is a version that’s easier to introduce to new markets, new regions,” says Hussain.
“The traditional format is more structured, in terms of the kind of play. Rugby Sevens is more free-flowing, definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat. I think over the 120-odd countries that are playing the game, I would presume, more of them play Rugby Sevens than Rugby 15s.
“It’s been massive (to help the game grow in India). The fact that it’s been included in the Olympics is huge. It has automatically taken the interest of the Ministry of Sport. Recognitions have been easier to get for Rugby India because it’s an Olympic sport.”
Hussain, who led the Indian sevens team at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, which was held in New Delhi, has seen the game grow leaps and bounds in the country in the last 10 years. There are now 8581 registered players in India, including 2760 women.
Why Rugby Sevens could be a hit with Indians?
One of the problems with Indian rugby has always been sheer size. They have found it difficult to tackle down opponents much bigger and stronger than them. But Sevens is a lot more forgiving in that regard.
“It’s a valid point,” he says. “Rugby Sevens is not as focused just on size.
“It’s about speed, about endurance, about agility, skills. It is more conducive probably to the Indian body type. Example of that would be Sri Lanka, who are similar body type but have done fairly well on the Asian front. The likes of Japan and things like that as well. It is a bit easier in a way. Not just for India, for a lot of developing countries it gives them an opportunity to contest and to compete on the international front.”
Though Rugby is still a developing sport in the country, the Indian women, especially, have returned with some encouraging results on the Asian circuit. The most notable was a silver medal at the Asia Rugby Sevens Trophy in 2017.
With the sport breaking down traditions and charting new territories, Rugby Sevens is here to stay.