The pathway to making it as an international 7s player differs all over the world. We asked the world's leading women's rugby 7s nations what their structure looked like in an effort to examine how well placed the top nations are to capitalise on the focus the Olympics will bring this summer. First up, New Zealand, Canada, England, Australia and Russia tell us how they do it. This is the first of a series of articles over the coming weeks looking at this topic.
Q If I'm a 14-year-old currently interested in playing 7s but not 15s, what pathway is available to me in your country to get involved?
Australia: You can play non-contact VIVA 7s at your local club if it is run there and or you can play in a Sevens tournament in your local area. Last year women’s 7s participation grew by 33% largely through new tournaments that Clubs are running throughout the country. In terms of ongoing competitions (as opposed to one-off tournaments), this is still an area for development, however the new national schools comp will hopefully fill this pathways gap.
Russia: There are some teams in Russia that have underage players. These teams are in Krasnoyarsk, Kemerovo region (both Siberia), the Krasnodar region, Moscow and around Moscow. Now we have clubs in Marii El republic, Tatarstan, Tumen region, Omsk region and Leningrad region where it is also possible to participate in trainings if you are an underage girl. There are a lot of opportunities to try some rugby even if you are a younger girl. And you can always join the social men's team If you want to play just 7s - no problem, we have more 7s tournaments!
New Zealand: In New Zealand teenage rugby is run in secondary schools. Therefore, if you wanted to play 7s it would be via your school. Sevens is now offered as part of the NZ secondary schools sports programme as part of summer sports. This means there is a specific week set aside for secondary school tournaments around the country. In the 15s game our focus is on establishing an Under 15s grade. This is to bridge the gap between secondary school girls' rugby and club rugby (rugby is played in clubs beyond secondary school level). Often if there is no rugby offered at secondary school for girls, they play at club level which means they may be playing with and against women who are a lot older. By starting an Under 15 grade at high school and creating meaningful competition for teenagers, we are able to keep them in the game, develop their skills and give them opportunities to play. This year we have also introduced Quick Rip into secondary schools, which is a 7s version of rippa rugby (a non-contact version of the game using Velcro tags). Quick Rip will be offered as part of physical education in schools.
England: We have just launched a grassroots 7s playing offer for women and girls in clubs. The first steps will be to attend one of the 7s themed pitch up and plays this summer, which can be found on findrugby.com. In addition, all players currently come through the Constituent Body and junior academy programme and we are currently developing a 7s pathway to support the senior side. This year, the bigger 7s development programme links into the U18s and Academy programme. We are now looking to develop better talent ID and transfer programmes. This includes targeted work with universities and additionally there is a new pilot schools programme in London and Manchester, targeting 14-16 year olds.
Canada: Obviously 15s is still the main way athletes are introduced to the sport at a club and especially at high schools. However, now many high schools have 7s and there is a provincial final in 7s as well at the high school level (age 14-18). Athletes can be identified through high school or national championships in 15s (age-grade U16 and U18) as well as 7s tournaments where athletes play in their provincial sides. The U18 national programme also held a large selection camp for 15s but gives a talent Identification opportunity for 7s. Playing high school, regional and provincial 7s is the main pathway to U18. Through provincial coaches they will be identified for camps for selection to U18 championships, Youth Olympic Games and Youth Commonwealth Games run by the national programme. The top athletes will then be invited to train at regional centres and from there the Maple Leafs squad and into the top training group.
Q What are your plans after Rio for developing your 7s structure beneath the national side?
Australia: The major focuses are: schools and university competitions, and a national series. Schools competitions will happen this year, and the others are works in progress but are earmarked for the next year or so.
New Zealand: Sevens is relativity new and growing quickly. We now have a team of talent identification people around the country focussed on spotting potential high performance 7s players (in other codes as well as rugby). Athletes are then given the opportunity to attend regional sevens academies to develop their talent and skills. Those who are keen to continue in sevens are given training programmes and support along with opportunities to play. We also now have five regional development officers around the country who are solely dedicated to working with our provincial unions to grow the women's game - both at 7s and 15s. Sevens is a great entry game for women (and men) who have played touch rugby and want to try the contact version of the game. Our development officers are working with provincial unions to develop 7s competitions and leagues to provide opportunities for women - and everyone - to play sevens.
England: As mentioned above, England Rugby has a 7s development pathway and is developing our talent ID and transfer programmes. Development 7shas proven to be popular with sessions in which approximately 15-20 players have the opportunity to compete together. The development of the pathway from U18s is now a key focus.
Q Are there any barriers or concerns you have about developing 7s alongside your 15s programme?
New Zealand: We see opportunities. Developing 7s is an opportunity to introduce more people to rugby and provide different options of the game for people.
Australia: We’re committed to growing Australian rugby through our three different formats of the game (non-contact VIVA 7s, Sevens and 15s). They will all appeal to different players which will diversify and broaden our participant base. 7s and 15s are closely linked: the skill sets are very similar, and the values of Rugby are promoted through each format – so really we see them as complementary formats of the game.
England: The barriers tend to be resource-related in terms of developing and delivering high quality programmes across both platforms. Examples include player resource, coaching expertise and finance. However, we are developing 7s and XVs which also provide opportunities to cross into new markets and avenues of resource.
Q How many "7s" players are playing rugby in your country
Australia: In 2015, women's 7s players (playing more than 5 games/sessions) increased by 33.4% to 4,012, while 1,594 women played in the traditional fifteen-a-side format (plenty more played in one-off tournaments). In 2014 the number of women's 7s players increased by 66%. Women’s 7s is now the fastest growing sport in the world, with 500k new female players across the world joining every year, for the past few years. It’s projected that by 2026, 40% of players worldwide (6 million players) will be female. The ARU’s target is to increase female participation rate to 15% of all participants across three formats
Russia: There are over 2000-2500 female players in Russia. Most of them are U14, who participate in the "Get Into Rugby" (by World Rugby) program,e or our Russian prorgamme "Rugby in schools"
Over 300 player have regular trainings.
England: As players realistically play both (because there is not enough 7's specific rugby throughout the year), these are counted as the registered player numbers. We are at 24,000.
Later this week we'll have the same questions and answers from Ireland, the USA, France. Fiji and Spain, after which we'll give you our view on the current state of player pathways and readiness for the post Rio surge in interest. Share your thoughts with us on Twitter.