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When I began writing about rugby in the 1990s, the club 7s season wasn’t something I spent a lot of time covering. I guess I paid attention to the club finals, but at the time I was just one man, and the summer 7s was something I didn’t cover that much.
Enter the 2000s and I started to pay more attention. And quickly I encountered a national list of grievances. If 7s is the rugby players summer vacation, then your average 7s club leader seemed to be the guy on the chair by the pool complaining about the weather and concierge service.
Clubs broke the rules by bringing in players from other clubs.
Clubs broke the rules by wearing skin-tight jerseys that were difficult to grab.
Cubs broke the rules by wearing thin jerseys that broke away when you grabbed them.
Clubs lost games on purpose to make sure they got into a favorable pool at the national championships.
Clubs broke rules by bringing in too many foreigners.
You kind of got tired of them after a while.
Of course, I had my own complaints: teams not showing up was a big one. Lack of coherence in a season was another. And a third was, of course, the campaign to stop players from switching clubs when the season changed from 15s to 7s (what has one got to do with the other?). So maybe I should have lumped myself in with the complainers and told myself to be quiet.
Regardless, 7s club rugby is at a major crossroads at present. So it’s worth putting some of the complaints aside and saying something positive.
Top club 7s in America is actually quite good. While it’s really difficult to jump straight from club 15s to the national team and perform well – it’s been done but it’s difficult – it’s much more common for players to jump from club 7s to the national team and make an impact.
One of the reasons for this, I think, is that the number of teams taking 7s seriously is rather small. As a result, the top players congregate in a small pond of teams, and challenge each other more. The National 7s Club Championship tournament is an outstanding tournament. The new collegiate competitions are excellent, as well. We have a great product, fun to watch, and of a good quality.
But how will that be impacted by the change in USA Rugby’s structure? With territories being replaces by smaller Geographic Unions, we won’t have territorial champions anymore. Already USA Rugby has recognized, by admitting Hawaii Marist into last season’s club finals, that the territorial boundaries aren’t the be-all and end-all.
Now is the time to formulate a plan for the summer club 7s season. With 7s an Olympic sport now, and collegiate 7s and high school 7s gathering popularity, there are good athletes looking for competition.
I think we need to create a national 7s circuit. It would not be hard; it would simply be the application of ideas I’ve seen from a number of smart people. Assign points for success in a number of tournaments throughout the country. Clubs can participate if they want, or not, but if they want to qualify for the national championships, they need to earn enough points, and they must participate in a minimum number of events (three or four seems right).
Pat Clifton’s column on creating a pro circuit is wonderful, and if we can get the backing, let’s do it. But even on an amateur basis, USA Rugby has to create a new plan for club 7s, and they have to do it now. With all due respect to what the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest have accomplished, territorial boundaries are pointless for this. We need a national circuit, probably with at least two qualifier tournaments most weekends, to allow for ease of travel. The tournaments are out there, the team will is out there, and the players are out there.
All we need is a little direction from the top.