Source: Team GB

Time for an Explanation?

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The Sevens Conundrum

Three of Ealing Trailfinders’ most recent signings, Amy Wilson Hardy, Emma Uren and Ellie Boatman, only add to the mysteries behind the RFU’s policy towards Sevens rugby.

All of them have made regular appearances for England and GB Sevens squads.

Doubts first arose when Leicester Tigers announced the acquisition of Meg Jones (co-captain of both those sides), and Celia Quansah.

Who let them off the leash to indulge in 15s, the RFU or the GB Sevens management, or both? It’s not so long ago that Red Roses were said (by Simon Middleton) to be required to commit to one format or the other. That statement was proved less than watertight when Heather Cowell was capped for 15s internationals before returning hot-foot to Sevens. Has official policy altered? If so, how, and why haven’t we been told?

Now Jones is a very welcome inclusion in the list of 32 contracted players for 15s.

Is it true love between the RFU and Sevens?

One of the biggest rumpuses the RFU has managed to achieve in the past few years was its sudden removal of contracts from its entire 7s squad; Covid and poverty were the excuses. It has rarely known such a storm of protest, though it is not unfamiliar with them.

One effect was to suggest a policy of favouring 15s over 7s, which some people might view favourably.

It helped to increase the Red Roses’ overall strength markedly. Players such as Alex Matthews, Ellie Kildunne, Emily Scarratt, Holly Aitchison, Jess Breach, Mo Hunt and Tatyana Heard returned to Fifteens for good.

Who runs the show?

The relationship of the three home unions (SRU, RFU and WRU) with the GB set-up is messy. It creates tricky problems for the organisers of World Rugby’s HSBC World Series, the Olympics and other lesser competitions. Which squads are eligible, England and Scotland and Wales, or a combined squad?

The Commonwealth Games allow all three to compete separately (Soon Rockall should find a place), so squad-building continues to be a matter of make-do-and-mend. It was like that even before the GB side was invented for the Rio Olympics.

This confusion helps to explain GB’s problems in qualifying for the Olympics. This time round they had to go to Krakow and compete against Czechia, Ireland, Poland and Spain to ensure their place.

One of the unavoidable weaknesses of the 7s schedule is the huge gaps between tournaments. Even perennial winners like New Zealand are now allowed to fly out to the USA to take part in the first ever professional Sevens league, the PR7s.

Back to the new PWR. Have those England/GB players been allowed to join PWR clubs on the understanding that they can still be called on by the GB management for any coming tournament? Will they be popping in and out of the weekly match-schedules?

That is certainly the impression we get from Uren’s reaction to the win in Krakow. The Olympics remain at the forefront of her ambitions. It will be interesting to see how Jones adjusts to the double demands of elite Sevens and a 15s contract.

It would be more than useful if GB or the three unions could make a clear public statement about strategies.