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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

IPL-style rugby sevens likely to transform sport, says renowned coach Ben Ryan

Former Fiji and England coach suggests idea replace current global circuit, played by international representative teams

Ben Ryan, in Dubai coaching Emirati players from Hamdan Bin Rashed School, says a formalised secondary competition would bolster players’ skills and bank accounts. HSBC
Ben Ryan, in Dubai coaching Emirati players from Hamdan Bin Rashed School, says a formalised secondary competition would bolster players’ skills and bank accounts. HSBC

Ben Ryan, the former Fiji and England coach, believes the HSBC World Sevens Series is a “jewel in the crown” of rugby – but thinks an additional city-based franchise competition could have a transformative effect on the game.

The abridged format has long been seen by many as the means by which to spread the game beyond its established territories.

A new competition, based on the Indian Premier League-style franchise system in cricket, was recently proposed to further enhanced sevens’ appeal by Gavin Hastings.

The former Scotland captain, speaking in Dubai, suggested the concept replace the current global circuit, which is played by international representative teams.

He thinks it would have broad appeal, and could even help ease the financial burden on some cash-strapped national unions.

Ryan, who guided Fiji to the first Olympic gold medal in sevens last year, also thinks a new competition could have many benefits.

However, he says it should remain secondary to the 10-tournament international circuit.

“Ultimately, the jewel is the world series, then we have great events like the Olympics that supersedes that every four years,” Ryan said.

“But there could be a secondary competition, a franchise, IPL-style [tournament].

“You are not comparing two similar markets [rugby and cricket], but it is that idea of creating franchises around cities.”

At present, elite international sevens players who are not also actively involved in the XVs game face long gaps without competitive rugby.

Some have opted to play in pop-up tournaments in places as diverse as Munich and California of late, as part of their preparations for the world series.

Ryan, who was in Dubai coaching Emirati players from Hamdan Bin Rashed School, thinks a formalised secondary competition would bolster players’ skills, as well as bank accounts.

“In XVs, there is an argument they are playing too much rugby, and they are getting burnt out and injured,” Ryan said.

“In sevens, we are not playing enough tournaments, which is why teams are going to Munich and America, to play in these tournaments where the players are not receiving any additional income for it. They are just going and providing entertainment for people who are there.

“But if [England captain] Tom Mitchell, for example, was playing for a franchise that had a tournament that was well organised, and fitted in, and didn’t get in the way of the world series, that would work well on two major fronts.

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“First, sevens players are still not paid very much. If they had a secondary income, you would get better sevens paid players, which would therefore lead to better quality of sevens players.

“Players will come to the game knowing they have an international contract, and also a club franchise contract.

“World Rugby would be happy because everything is neatly boxed away, everyone can plan for it, and once you start to do that everyone can start to plan for the future.”

A franchise competition could also be a place to experiment with the standard competition format, of three pool matches on Day 1, followed by three knockout games on the second day, according to Ryan.

Whatever the future does look like, he is hopeful World Rugby is able to harness it.

“At the moment, I don’t think it would happen, but you could have a billionaire just come in, pool the players, and double their salaries,” Ryan said.

“That could happen. It is very unlikely, but we want to future-proof ourselves and build our brand into a more consistent one.”