Rugby

Exclusive: How Olympic gold-winning coach Ben Ryan hopes to revolutionise rugby 

The mastermind behind Fiji's success at Rio 2016 spoke to Olympic Channel about prioritising speed and skill over power with new rugby concept.

By Andrew Binner ·

Why run over a rugby player, when you can go around them instead?

That's the question Ben Ryan has been asking himself during the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan where his fellow Englishmen have made it through to the final.

While 100 kg-plus men deliver shuddering hits to one another in the Land of the Rising Sun, Ryan has cooked up a new rugby concept 6,000 miles miles away in London prioritising speed and skill over size.

Ryan is best known as the flame-haired coach who led Fiji's rugby sevens team to the nation's first ever Olympic gold medal at Rio 2016.

He is now applying his innovative ideas as Technical Director of Rugby X, which he hopes will revolutionise the sport.

Rugby sevens team takes first ever gold for Fiji

Fiji defeats Great Britain 43-7 in the men's rugby seven final to take gold...

Rugby X: Lights, camera, action!

While traditional 15-a-side rugby union and rugby sevens are played on a full-size field, Ryan's World Rugby-approved concept will see five-a-side teams play for 10 minutes on a smaller 55m x 35m pitch without posts.

This first competition will be indoors too, with London's O2 Arena transformed ahead of the one-day event on 29 October.

There will be men's and women's sides, comprised mostly of international rugby sevens players, while some Rugby World Cup stars whose teams have been knocked out of the tournament may also be involved.

Ryan told Olympic Channel, "I think it's going to be a really exciting variation on the game.

"We're going to add lights and fanfare and entertainment at the O2, and it's gonna be a pretty cool experience for everyone playing in it and watching it.

"It's short and sharp, and the whole session is gonna be a lot of fun."

The six confirmed teams for the maiden Rugby X event are England, Ireland, USA, France, Argentina and invitational side the Barbarians coached by former England scrum-half Danny Care.

The Baabaas have no fewer than five members of Fiji's Olympic gold-medal winning squad: Jasa Veremalua, Kitione Taliga, Samisoni Viriviri, Pio Tuwai and Ryan's captain in Rio, Osea Kolinisau.

The English men's side will include Team GB Rio 2016 silver medallists Tom Mitchell, Dan Norton, Ollie Lindsay-Hague and Phil Burgess.

Argentina are not to be taken lightly with experienced wing Franco Sabato showing his pace with a try against Fiji in their close group encounter at Rio 2016 which the Pacific Islanders won 21-14.

Competition from American sports

There has never been a more competitive sports market in the United Kingdom, and Ryan believes his event could help improve rugby's popularity with young players and supporters.

As such, Rugby X is designed to supplement the two established formats rather than compete against them.

Ryan stated, "In my opinion - and it's backed up with research - rugby has an ageing supporter base.

"To protect the sport, we're going to need a young generation to start following rugby, particularly with the competitive nature of other sports available, whether it's soccer or the American sports that are now creeping up behind rugby in the UK market."

"It's really simplified laws of the game and it means that we can we can bring it in somewhere and people can start playing the game straight away.

"You can't do that for 15-a-side as too much resource is needed. And while sevens is a brilliant sport, it's pretty knackering and it's hard as a start-up sport given the full-size field."

Financial incentives

Another key feature of Ryan's rugby revolution, is to address what he sees as payment injustices at the top end of the sport.

"If you're going to have good grass-roots participation, then you need to show that there's an elite level of the game as well.

"I don't think many people realise that most sevens players and Olympians earn very little money.

"The players are currently working hard for very little financial gain, and hopefully we'll provide a really powerful supplementary income."

"We won't clash with sevens, so players can play in the Rugby X season as well as the World Rugby Sevens Series and Olympic Games. That's going to mean that we're going to retain the very best sevens players in the world, and recruit better athletes due to the higher combined salary."