x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Traditional rugby powers still way out in front

The rest of the world has lifted their level of play, but the game's powerhouses have just gotten better themselves.

Sevens is supposed to be the vehicle by which the International Rugby Board is spreading the game to new audiences and untapped markets. Yet evidence suggests that, while the rest of the world advances, they are struggling to catch up as the best just keep getting better.

For example, the establishment reclaimed one record last weekend, when Dubai lost its world record for the highest attendance at a sevens event to England.

A crowd of more than 54,000 turned up to watch the first day of the London Sevens at Twickenham, and over the course of the weekend the attendance exceeded the 100,000 who watched the 2008 Dubai Rugby Sevens.

On the field, there are signs of progress beyond the usual rugby territories. Russia, for example, where only Olympic sports are compulsory as part of the schools curriculum, are threatening to become a force.

They reached the last eight of a cup competition for the first time in Hong Kong in March. They will be confident they can repeat that trick in Scotland this weekend, at the series-ending Edinburgh Sevens, in a pool also including New Zealand, Argentina and France. However, the new world order at the very top still appears to be very similar to the old one, at the moment.

With one tournament to spare, New Zealand clinched their ninth world series crown out of 12 attempts last weekend.

Proof that the more things change in rugby, the more they stay the same.