Fiji has been dominant in Rugby 7s for many years. They embraced 7s early. It worked for the Fiji rugby style. Rugby 7s will be featuring at the Olympics and many have suggested it will provide a massive profil boast, or at least expose the sport more widely leading to improve sponsorship and broadcast interest. Given this, should Fiji internationally go all out in the 7s game and abandon 15s?
To what extent would it affect their sponsorship? Given such a lack of exposure (outside the World Cup) that Pacific Island teams get in the 15s (not part of the SANZA or Six Nations pacts), are the costs of supporting an international 15s team actually supported by sponsorship or propped up by the 7s?
Would it adversely affect the playing development of Fiji rugby 7s in the long term? If the national team focused on 7s, this would likely have a trickle down affect into club rugby in Fiji, reducing participation levels in 15s… does this matter? A question for the rugby experts – does playing 15s help you be a better 7s player? Cricket T20/ODI v tests for comparison?
While on the cricket comparison, consider the development of Ireland and Afghanistan at One Day and T20 cricket. Afghanistan are ahead of Zimbabwe in ODI rankings, with Ireland not far behind and Afghanistan are ahead of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in T20 rankings. Perhaps this is because they don’t have test status and therefore a sharper focus?
Rugby in Fiji has had a deal with Clermont in France. This has helped bring development money into Fiji rugby and supported a handful of Fijian players make a move to France. Would this be adversely affected? Without looking at the details, would it be unreasonable to assume the French are after the fast backs, which may improve with a 7s focus?
Given that rugby is the national sport in Fiji, would the decline of rugby 15s be acceptable to the people (and the politics) of Fiji? Rugby in Fiji is massively important – Fiji Rugby has a prime ministerial appointment on its board. Would it dent national pride if 15s rugby declined to a point where Fiji could not afford to play or qualify for the Rugby World Cup?
Is the climate (heat and humidity – not politics) in Fiji really conducive to Rugby 15s? Maybe that accounts for the rise in Rugby 7s? You can change development programmes, sponsorship etc., but you can’t change the climate (well you can, but that’s a different blog!).
Would the IRB care? Would the IRB even notice? Would the IRB realise that they need to support Pacific rugby more than they have? Would NZ Rugby and Australian Rugby (and France, Wales, England) realise they need to support Pacific rugby better if they want to maintain the quality player flow?
Rugby 7s may or may not be the next big thing in international sport, but with the exposure it is receiving and should continue to receive, would a focused bet on 7s only by Fiji Rugby provide sufficient payback, both in absolute commercial dollars and general exposure of Fiji to the world?