Fans fault Challenger series as a bad decision

By eric odanga
Dec 21, 2021
  • Uganda and Zimbabwe are the two African countries included in the new Challenge Series which has drawn mixed reactions from the rugby fraternity. (Photo Courtesy)

A new format in the 2019/2020 World Rugby Sevens World Series has raised more questions than answers.

The ink has barely dried on the implementation of this new format before another change was announced by World Rugby who introduced a new competition which targets the tier two countries. This decision has also elicited mixed reactions from the rugby fraternity.

Early this week, World Rugby announced the introduction of a new competition; The World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series a new and exciting international rugby sevens competition to be launched in February 2020 to boost rugby sevens’ development across the globe.

With sevens experiencing exponential growth from a performance and fan engagement perspective, World Rugby is launching men’s and women’s Sevens Challenger Series to develop the next generation of rugby players and take rugby sevens to new nations, further growing the popularity and participation of sevens following its hugely impactful Olympic debut at the Rio 2016 Games.

The men’s series will feature 13 core teams from the six World Rugby regions who will compete over two rounds alongside three invitational teams.

The top eight core teams after the two rounds will then compete in the final playoff tournament for a spot in the World Rugby Sevens Series, replacing the bottom placed core team in the World Series in the following season.

This promotion and relegation system will provide a clear and consistent development pathway for teams ready to shine at the highest level of rugby sevens.

The two legs of the inaugural World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series will be played in South America in Viña del Mar, Chile (15-16 February 2020) and Montevideo, Uruguay (22-23 February 2020).

More game time

The reactions came thick and fast. Tolbert Onyango, the coach of Uganda commented that this was an opportunity for teams in the second tier to compete against each other, gain more game time as they prepare for the qualifiers in Hong Kong.

He added it was also a good opportunity to visit South America. “Not many of the rugby playing nations have been to that part of the world,” Onyango observed.

The Uganda players who reached the final of the Rugby Africa qualifier losing to Kenya are excited because the new competition pitted teams whose level of competition is almost at par. “They can test themselves on how far they have come. Previously, Uganda only played against Chile and Tonga and Germany once a year. With this tournament, they get to play them probably thrice in a space of two months. Exciting stuff,” Onyango acknowledged.

Like any other developing country, Onyango has to balance between 15’s and 7’s rugby. At the moment, his players are involved in 15’s competition and it will have to be a short turn around before they start training for the Series.

While Onyango is optimistic, Timothy Bulooti, a Uganda rugby fan believes the new competition was: “An insult to the rugby fraternity because of the many financial challenges that the sport has had and still faces. We don’t know how many times we have had harambees to fund the different rugby national teams,” he argues.

Elsewhere, (@Andrew Chambers2) asks: “Why are World Rugby ploughing more money into the top end of the game instead of building proper competitions for truly developing nations who can barely afford to compete? These competitions are great but there needs to be a criteria in place if actually developing a sustainable game in a country is the end goal,” he offers.

The same sentiments are shared by Damian McGrath, a former coach of Samoa and Canada 7’s teams. “There’s nothing new here! This competition is virtually the same as the one that has run for the last few years in the same place with basically the same teams.”

Format change

Paul Snaith recognizes the introduction of a new competition as good for developing teams but quickly adds: “I think you guys at the top need to sort out the current debacle in the World Series since the format change. New one is simply dreadful. Return to the original 4 trophy format. Or at least the two trophies,” he suggests.

In reply, @municrugger disagrees: “It is not. It is a step backwards as 4 less teams play in Hong Kong and they’ve cancelled most of the W7s wild cards. Germany are the reigning European champions. They finished second last year and reached two finals in Hong Kong and two semi finals in the last years. And they never get a chance to play at the next level.”

More rugby fans from Germany are unhappy. “What a big disappointment for all rugby fans from Germany. The German Sevens team will be punished despite its performance as European champions. A very bad situation for the development of the sport in Germany and central Europe,” according to Christoph Katzenknutscher.

The fans feel Germany has been robbed of their title as European champions and ‘forced’ into a new competition with a bias towards “preparing Asia for Olympics.”

Paul Stevenson loves to see the growth and progression of the sport but asks: “Will there be a return to the former series tournament format? The new format is a bit lackadaisical and relies more on seeding and less on the play by the teams.”

Another rugby lover, @gottrugby says: “A good idea that was badly implemented. WR clearly playing favorites with South America. To alter the qualifying method two months before the tournament is outright scandalous.”

In the new competition, 13 core teams from the six World Rugby regions who will compete over two rounds alongside three invitational teams.

The top eight core teams after the two rounds will then compete in the final playoff tournament for a spot in the World Rugby Sevens Series, replacing the bottom placed core team in the World Series in the following season.

Development pathway

This promotion and relegation system will provide a clear and consistent development pathway for teams ready to shine at the highest level of rugby sevens.

The two legs of the inaugural World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series will be played in South America in Viña del Mar, Chile (15-16 February 2020) and Montevideo, Uruguay (22-23 February 2020).

Thirteen nations have earned their place in the Challenger Series by finishing as the top ranked nations who are not already competing in the World Rugby Sevens Series at their respective regional sevens competitions in 2019.

The teams who will compete in the 2020 World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series are Brazil, Chile, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Tonga, Uganda, Uruguay and Zimbabwe.

They will be joined by three invitational teams from the Americas in Colombia, Mexico and Paraguay. The final playoff tournament will be hosted alongside the World Rugby Sevens Series event in Hong Kong on 3-5 April 2020.

The Sevens Challenger Series will help prepare teams for the possibility of playing on the world’s biggest sporting stage, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series participants Brazil, Chile, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Mexico, Tonga, Uganda and Zimbabwe will all take part in the Olympic repechage in June 2020 to try and secure their ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. 

Women's competition

Mark Egan, World Rugby Head of Competitions and Performance said: “Today’s announcement is just the beginning for the Sevens Challenger Series, which will also see a women’s competition launched in 2020 and will evolve to feature more rounds across the globe as it grows and develops in future years.

“The competition will allow unions outside of the World Rugby Sevens Series to compete on a more regular basis with a clear pathway to the highest level. Launching next year will provide an excellent platform for nations to develop and improve their competitiveness ahead of Tokyo 2020 and Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 in South Africa.