What’s the difference between sevens and regular rugby? Sevens is the shortened version of rugby union and is a vastly pacier and more free-scoring affair, traditionally feeding a country’s 15s team with emerging talent. The rules are the same as 15s, but you’re unlikely to see the heftier stars of world rugby involved, due to the adrenaline-pumped speed at which sevens is played. There are seven men to a team instead of 15, yet matches are still played on a full-size pitch, meaning there is more space to manoeuvre, and high-scoring games are therefore common. Each match is seven minutes each way with a two-minute half-time break. However, the finalists of each competition play 10 minutes per half with the same half-time break. If the knockout matches are tied at the end of full-time, extra-time is played in periods of five minutes until a winner is decided.
What’s so special about this year? The new Sevens stadium marks the 10th year of the sevens competition, since being accredited by rugby union’s governing body, the International Rugby Board (IRB). Dubai is traditionally the opening tournament of the IRB Sevens World Series, with competitions in South Africa, New Zealand, America, Hong Kong, Australia, England and Scotland to follow through to May 2009. New Zealand are the reigning champions of Dubai and the entire World Series, having been knocked from their perch only once in nine years by Fiji in the 2005-06 season.
The running order
The Dubai Sevens is split into three days: day one sees local and invitational teams compete; day two (day one of the full competition) concentrates on the pool stages, involving the 16 international sides; and day three sees the successful sides from day two fight it out for four trophies.
Cup – The top two teams from each pool progress to the Cup competition, with the winners named overall Dubai champions.
Plate – This is contested between the four losing Cup quarter-finalists.
Bowl – Played for by the third- and fourth-place finishers from the initial pool stages.
Shield – Whoever loses in the Bowl quarter-finals plays for the Shield.
Try (five points) When a player touches the ball down in the area behind the goal.
Conversion (two points) When the resulting kick from the try sails between the posts.
Penalty (three points) Rarely seen in sevens, but awarded when the ball is kicked between the posts following an opposition infringement.
Drop-goal (three points) Again rarely seen in sevens, and occurs when a player drop-kicks the ball between the posts from open play.
The campaign to make rugby sevens an official Olympic sport.
Despite being recognised in the Commonwealth Games since 1998 there is still a colossal fight going on to make sevens part of the summer Olympics. Because the matches are over quickly, require limited resources, give smaller nations the chance to get involved, and consistently attract sell-out crowds, the IRB feels it has a strong argument with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Yet it turned down the bid to introduce sevens to the Olympics from 2012, with one official quoted as saying: ‘When it comes to rugby, I am not a specialist, but people within the sport tell me that rugby sevens is something of a joke.’ ‘Not a specialist’ was something of an understatement when it was later revealed that the official involved had never watched a game of sevens or 15s. Next year’s IRB World Cup Sevens in Dubai will be the first time women’s teams will compete (although they’ve played in Dubai Sevens competitions before), so perhaps that will force the IOC’s hand.