New Sevens Format draws mixed reactions

By eric odanga
Dec 09, 2019
  • Kenya and South Africa enter The Sevens Stadium in Dubai. (Photo Courtesy World Rugby)

A new format introduced by the World Rugby in the 2019/2020 World Rugby Sevens World Series and implemented in the opening tournament in Dubai has drawn sharp criticism and mixed reactions from the rugby fraternity.

Most Past and present players, coaches, administrators as well as fans are unhappy. In summary, under the new format, the total number of matches have been reduced from 45 to 36 in the 16-team format of the men’s competition.

The changes have been made from the knockout stage where the Challenge Trophy quarter-finals has been scrapped and replaced with play-off matches.

As a result, the bottom eight teams can only play one match at the penultimate stage as opposed to a minimum of two under the old format.

Also, losers at the main cup quarter-finals do not proceed to the fifth and sixth play-off semis. But the losers at the cup semis play for the bronze. The reaction has come thick and fast.

Andrew Amonde, the Kenya Sevens captain observed the format was unfair to teams don’t qualify for the main cup. “We played only one game at the knockout stage while others played as many as six,” he stated.

The veteran player added the format makes it difficult for coaches to introduce new/young players for exposure.

Commercial interests

Sasha Mutai, a former Kenya Rugby Union chairman believes the changes were made for commercial interests. “I think it’s just been done for TV and to accommodate the Women’s Series where the two tournaments are played at the same venue,” Mutai offered.

But he believes this format dilutes the competition and robs the fans of entertainment with nine matches not played. “But, maybe it’s a necessary evil to expand the women’s game,” he quips. It is not clear whether this format will see a drop in the number of fans at the knockout stage.

Benjamin Ayimba who guided Kenya to their first ever Series win noted it was only a matter of time before the new format was implemented after World Rugby scraped the Plate, Bowl and Shield competitions which were replaced with the Challenge Trophy.

“Really don’t mind it. They want more quality matches and reduce fatigue among players,” he added.

Ayimba who was not shy to engage the World Rugby supremo for their apparent bias towards top tier nations maintained his stance saying the bottom eight teams had to to something extraordinary to gain the attention of World Rugby.

Others took to social media to voice their feelings. Rhodri Mcatee who won the Rugby World Cup Sevens with Wales 10 years ago did not mince his words. “It’s rubbish! What was wrong with the old format!! Why reinvent the wheel!!,” he wrote on twitter.

Less playing time

Another retired Welsh Sevens player argued that the new format denied teams more playing time besides gunning for points at the knockout stage “especially when a game can be decided on a ref’s decision or the bounce of a ball.”

Mitch Ocholla, a former Kenya winger and coach had mixed feelings by saying this was a positive move aimed at addressing player safety. “It is an interesting move although I think players should play more games to get the much needed experience. A team that gets to a final will have played two extra games which does not add up,” he suggested.

Ocholla faults World Rugby by stating: “The idea of growing development nations has not been taken into account. It totally dilutes the competition and spirit of the game which rugby is known for. Wrong move to sum it up.”

Paul Snaith agrees: “A terrible format. Why on earth do they keep changing? Go back to the original format,” he comments on twitter.

Wisdom questioned

Edward Rombo, the first Kenyan to play in Rugby League and who has also coached Kenya Sevens questions the wisdom of the new format which he says is crap because it reduces the number of games teams would play at the knockout stage.

“What was the reason of removing the Challenge Trophy after only two seasons? There was nothing wrong with the old format because each team played at least five or six games,” he poses.

As the teams assemble in Cape Town for the second tournament, the effects of the new format will be under further scrutiny.

It is unlikely World Rugby will be in a hurry to revise the format and all eyes will be on the tournaments where only the men’s teams compete whether these will be played under the old format.

Additional reporting Aggrey Omiyo