I had the good fortune to attend both the Wellington and Las Vegas legs of the IRB Sevens in recent weeks which has certainly stirred up plenty of thoughts in my head and stuff to get off my chest. Here I analyse the USA Sevens in Vegas. Was it a success? Why the Samons love to ruck and is Stevie Gemmell's Scotland position under threat?
I have split this latest addition into three parts with the next edition coming next week.
It would not be fair to either my readers or my fellow spectators at the USA Sevens not to address Las Vegas first. It was strange, surreal, incredible and frustrating all at the same time for the most part in the City of Sin.
First my frustrations; 12 miles to the Sam Boyd stadium is a massive negative in comparison to the spectator experience in San Diego. I loved SD, strolling into the Gaslamp quarter after a day of sevens to the official Kiwi fan party last year was great. I was three beers in before all the fans had got out of the stadium!
In Vegas, amongst the jubilant Samoan fans, I found it difficult to get to my car and sat in copious amounts of traffic on my return to the Strip.
Another little annoyance was the beer taps being shut down once the first of the four finals began. Look I was thirsty and I couldn’t get a beer for five hours and I was in Vegas. Surely a contradiction in terms?!
Sam Boyd stadium is not Petco but as a USA Sevens venue it really worked.
Festival vibe - spot on
The additional social tournaments including the Las Vegas Invitational, with its Championship Cup Series Finals (CCS), took place right on the fields next door which were great.
I wandered over and watched Samurai smash US social teams (I will address this at another time) and with Belmont Shore taking the title in a 'good' US rugby tournament. I turned a blind eye to the Collegiate 15s and overall it really felt like a festival of rugby which the organisers were aiming for.
Vegas itself was as mental as ever, I heard some cracking stories from fellow spectators that involved midgets,helicopters, Santana, roulette tables, party liaisons, table dancers dressed in international kits, and table service.
Vegas offered what Vegas offers. It will be always be a completely surreal experience.
You won't sleep, unless you are like me and dosed up on some hardcore pain killers that hold my crooked body together.
The USA Sevens should be a spectacle of everything American and it certainly ticked that box. So well done on that front.
I am sure that more and more people will head to the 'destination' that Las Vegas is for the tournament and I really hope that the problems are ironed out as for all my usual grumblings you can't help but feel that if they can't get it right in Vegas, they are not going to get it right.
I go to Vegas every year. Will the USA Sevens become that visit? In short, no. Will the USA Sevens in Vegas continue to grow? Yes.
On to the rugby itself and congratulations to Samoa. They have been a revelation this year and look like the power they were in the 05/06 season. The difference this year is that they seemed to have nailed the consistency issue.
Rucking and rolling in Vegas
One thing I love it is that they are taking physicality to another level (sometimes not legally) in the tackle but magnificently at ruck time.
An increased emphasis on rucking has filtered into the Sevens game for the past five years. I remember driving past a National League club at the beginning of 2008 and noticed a Sevens training session taking place. When I walked over the coach was screaming out to one of players, who many in the UK will know as a regular on the circuit, for playing what the coach was calling 'nice, pretty, public school sevens'.
Basically he was talking about the lad constantly keeping the ball out of contact, almost out of a fear. The coach was saying that the game was heading in the direction that rucking was going to be integral to attacking play.
The aforementioned player at the training session argued (with little success) that backing away from contact to an extent of 30/40 yards did not matter as the defence would eventually make a mistake and the pace of the wide men would be able to get around the outside of the 'gate' and go the length.
If you ruck aggressively then the speed of the ball coming back to you negated the issue of taking the contact and it meant that if taken on your terms it took the game to 5 on 5. This gives the attacking team even more space to use. It is easier to score 5 on 5 with the pace on the field than it is 7 on 7, which I thought at the time was an incredibly valid point
We now see the sides at IRB level putting more and more importance into ruck time not just to the extent of being able to win quick ball but to be able to tire defences from the constant physicality required to compete.
Can England close the gap?
It also gives the attacking team further opportunity to blow holes in the defensive lines at point A (contact area) the top sides at the moment in the Series are New Zealand, Samoa and Fiji and no one can argue that these three teams are the sides that have the most physicality in this area of the game.
England play at times a really pretty version of the game of Sevens and their new young guns are growing with each tournament.
But they have such speed in their arsenal that they should be able to kill teams and granted at times they do.
My issue with the England squad that played in Wellington and Vegas though was that they lacked the hammer to go alongside their sickle.
They are 10-20% off the level of the top THREE teams in the contact area and at times get bullied. Of course the addition of Damu, Drauniniu and Cracknell would make a huge difference. They need to hammer it home to then give Gollings more opportunity for clean ball to let Wade, Caprice and Norton do damage more often.
My final point on this is that if you boss the contact area you are certain to retain more ball and win the possession battle. This is something that is integral in contact sports as its considerably more tiring to defend than it is to attack.
I can almost guarantee that the teams that are winning on the scoreboard are almost certainly winning more rucks and with that having the ball in their hands for longer.
These will lave more energy more in their tanks for the most important part of the game; either the last 2 minutes or extra time. Check out the England v Kenya game at 14:01 on the UR7s Day 2 Live Text.
Big problems for Scots
Scotland may have invented this great game, but to be honest at the moment the current Scottish Sevens programme is an embarrassment.
There are constant rumblings on the circuit about who should make up the core teams and with Scotland showing up so badly it makes you wonder.
I am very much hoping they prove me wrong, but on the field at present some serious questions have to be asked. This includes whether Gemmell is the man to take them forward or not.
If Scotland want to stay as a core side on the series then they have to look like their Welsh rivals and be competing for a quarter-final spot. They may have lost a number of the players who guided them to two semi-finals last season but it is still disappointing.
Currently finishing any higher than 13th at any tournament (Bowl winners) looks beyond the team.
With newly installed contracted Sevens players this season the SRU have never before put so much into the programme, one which must be costing them considerable figures.
My thoughts are they should go amateur in the same way the Argentineans approach the WS. The Scots only have two professional teams and struggle to find enough players for the 15-a-side team. If they were to look at the amateur sides in Scotland this probably wouldn't hurt the team.
The players would be playing regularly for the traditional Scottish clubs on the 'King of Sevens' circuit, the coach would be able to have regular camps with the side without having to worry about commitments to 15s.
More time with players, more game time through the national circuit with Sevens specialists would far out weight the issue of not using the professional players.
In professional sport the buck stops and starts with the coach and if the programme is not going to change thenperhaps it's time for the back room staff to change. Gemmell even admitted his position would be called into question post Wellington. The heat is on for them in Adelaide.
In my next blog I am going to look at USA and Canada, how Guyana, Chile and Tonga got on in Rounds 3 & 4, Invitational tournament mismatches and I will be taking a look forward to my favourite weekend of the year; 24 teams heading towards the true 'destination' on the IRB circuit; Hong Kong.