Brave New World – by Pat McNally

Posted by SCRRS Website Committee on October 20th, 2009

By Pat McNally

Rugby Sevens has truly arrived and our world has been turned upside down;
it’s life Jim, but not as we know it.

The recent 2009 Rugby World Cup Sevens, which was the first to incorporate a 16-team women’s event running alongside the men’s competition, was broadcast to 760 million people in 141 countries through 29 international broadcasters in 19 languages.

The ultimate in international sport, the Olympic Games, voted last week in Copenhagen to accept Sevens as a full medal sport in 2016 and 2020. “With this momentous decision, the profile and importance of the IRB Sevens World Series on the global calendar will reach new heights,” according to Keith Lawrence, IRB Sevens referee manager.

How will this affect opportunities for Sevens referees and referee appointments? Will we be looking at a different referee development model? Will we see specialist Sevens referees that make entire careers out of officiating only Sevens?

Domestically, there will be a big increase in opportunities for Sevens referees.

The USA Sevens in Las Vegas will continue to grow in popularity, along with its associated tournaments – the Championship Cup Series and the Las Vegas Invitational.

The standard of play of our National Club Sevens Championship season is steadily increasing in skill and intensity.

Combined with the performance of women’s Sevens teams at the All-Star Sevens Championships in New York City and the proposed Women’s City-Based Sevens League, all portend an explosion in the demand for experienced, accomplished Sevens referees.

Traditionally, referees with potential for international level rugby were assigned to the IRB SWS.

“The IRB Sevens circuit has proven to be a breeding ground for match official talent over the past decade with many of the world’s top referees having graduated through the Series. It is the perfect platform for a referee to develop, providing exposure to a high-intensity, high-paced environment that tests both physical and mental skills,” according to IRB Referee Manager Paddy O’Brien.

The list of referees who got their start in international Sevens is impressive; Jonathan Kaplan, Alain Rolland, Craig Joubert, Wayne Barnes, and Nigel Owens all graduated to refereeing test match status.

Andre Watson and O’Brien were appointed to the Hong Kong Sevens in 1996 as an important part of their elite referee development.

While we may see subtle changes in Sevens appointments, the basic criteria should remain – same as it ever was. Speed and athleticism will continue to grow in importance as a factor in Sevens referee selection.

It is also likely that certain referees will be appointed to Sevens for longer durations, due to an acquired skill set that is difficult to replace, and to provide for continuity and stability in officiating. However, it is doubtful whether we will see referees that make entire careers out of Sevens rugby.

With the recent announcement of referee appointments for this year’s 11th edition of the IRB SWS, O’Brien addressed the physical demands of Sevens, “The game of Sevens needs our best Sevens referees, and that means our best athletes.

Sevens is a very fast game and these appointments reflect that. We’ve selected up-and-coming referees of huge potential and where they might lack in experience at this stage in their careers, they make up for it in fitness, speed and athleticism, which mirrors the players on a Sevens pitch.”

Sevens will continue to be used as a tool to develop referees with the potential for future elite status, both nationally and internationally.

As Mr. Lawrence concludes, “Sevens is not just about the six or seven 14-minute games that you will be appointed to at each tournament.

It is also about learning to be a part of a team, mixing with leading players and coaches, learning about new cultures, taking the opportunity to learn new skills and in particular developing your ability to plan well, both on and off the field, and undertake critical self review.”

A brave new world, indeed.

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