Source: USA Rugby

Professional Rugby Sevens

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Professional Rugby Sevens comes to the USA and Canada

What must be the very first 7s league in the world is due to kick off this autumn in the USA and Canada. Its organisers see it as the big opportunity to raise the profile of rugby across North America. Initially there will be six men’s and four women’s teams competing; Equal pay is assured.

Top names have already signed up such as Naya Tapper, Abby Gustaitis and Ilona Maher.

It will be fascinating to see how Sevens in this format can develop. Till now it has always had a knock-out format with pool stages followed by semis and a final. Will this new creation be able to attract crowds, especially when the small number of competing women’s teams in the first season will have its drawbacks? It would probably mean a total of 48 female players being signed up.

The Americans are renowned for the financing of sporting operations, but this will take some doing.

The man-in-charge, Mike Tolkin, has a huge responsibility. As General Manager he will have to appoint coaches and players and decide on the host cities to stage the early rounds.

But he was in charge of the USA men’s team for four years up to 2015, so has the right credentials.

How far afield will he look for potential players? He may not limit himself to attracting Canadians and Americans into the fold. Perhaps Europeans, Australians or New Zealanders might be sounded out – or even the best from elsewhere. In the specialised world of basketball, the pro-teams attract the most promising players from every corner of the globe. The same is possible here, especially with the promise of high pay.

The coming Olympics add a special flavour to the operation. The hope must have been that interest in the PR7s would rise on the back on an exciting tournament in Tokyo, but with the Games hanging in the balance, they can’t be certain of that welcome uplift.

It will be interesting to see how World Rugby reacts to this major initiative. It has to measure the first big move to professionalise 7s against its likely effects on 15s.