Ali Donnelly reviews the news this week that the IRB has launched a Women’s Sevens World Series which kicks off next month.
On the road to Rio 2016, it was always vital that the womens game developed a structured global competition. A World Series, once touted, became inevitable, and while the make-up of the six core teams is likely to change in the lead-up to Rio, the womens sevens game does now have a first real foothold in the global rugby calendar.
First lets look at the structure of the series.
Six core teams were announced for the first year - Australia, Canada, England, Netherlands, New Zealand and USA. At each of the four tournaments, they will be joined by six invitational sides, with some of those sides doubling up at other tournaments as the IRB has confirmed that 20 teams in total will be part of the series.
Determining the make-up of the core teams was probably the trickiest part of the equation for the IRB, as the womens game still lacks a centralised major rankings system outside of World Cup standings. The core team decision, as I understand it was down to a number of factors which included performances in recent IRB Challenge Cup events, cost, the interest of teams themselves in participating as well as performances of all sides since the 2009 World Cup.
On that basis probably the only side who can really consider themselves hard done by on missing out are Spain effectively the second best Sevens side in Europe after England and a side who have always beaten the Netherlands, who one assumes are there by virtue of their professional commitment and investment in the womens sevens game in recent years.
So while Spain can definitely say they are worthy of inclusion it is probably likely they will be a part of the series regardless (as an invitational side), while also knowing that the first year is a transitional year in terms of who has been selected, as my understanding is that Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 rankings will be used to determine the core teams for the 2013/14 season.
Next to the venues chosen, and theres been some surprise that none of Hong Kong, London or Las Vegas will host events and that just one of the tournaments is side by side with the mens series (Dubai)
The IRB has chosen UAE (Dubai), USA (Houston), China (Guangzhou) and Netherlands (Amsterdam) to host their competitions venues which already host major Sevens tournaments, albeit not all up to now, IRB sanctioned.
There is definitely an argument that the womens series should be played side by side with the mens series which has already built up a good following and has strong broadcast and general media coverage which the womens game could clearly benefit from.
But equally, womens rugby does need to find its own identity and this series needs to stand on its own two feet. To that end having standalone tournaments will probably be no bad thing in the long run.
What is vital is that the IRB negotiates some kind of broadcast coverage, online or otherwise, that the game so often lacks, to give this entire series the kind of profile it will desperately need as it gets off the ground.
There will be other concerns too for the IRB - one will be ensuring that the top teams don't race so far ahead of the chasing pack that the chase becomes fruitless and ensuring that the sevens game really is a global feast. Right now Asia, South America and Africa do not feature on the core team list and while they will get a chance next year at the World Cup, they are playing catch-up.
And while 12 teams is a great start - why not 16 and ensure that as many sides as possible benefit from the series as possible - perhaps that will come.
One thing is sure, and thats that every single team involved in the inaugural series will derive major benefit from their participation in the lead up to next summers World Cup.
The Series make-up and potentially location could well change in the coming years but make no mistake, this is a huge step for the game.