HAWKEYE VIEW: AND WE ARE BACK

Thu, 29 Jan 2015 08:56
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EXCLUSIVE: MATT HAWKINSRUGBY365'S SPECIALIST SEVENS COLUMNIST, RETURNS FROM HIS MID-SEASON SLUMBER WITH MORE GREAT INSIGHT!

The year 2015 offers possibilities that truly captivate any rugby fan, but through its momentous journey a historic look will shape what will create a precedent for years to come and deliver a showcase of rugby like no other year that has seen before.

You ask the question: "How is 2015 any different from 2011 when the last Rugby World Cup was held?"

In short, Sevens will be getting just as much of the spotlight as that what is usually reserved for the 15-a-side code.

The first interesting shift is that of the IRB and their departure from that name to the newly launched World Rugby.

The second is, it is a World Cup year, which has an incredible impact on both the international and national scene of all the nations participating.

The difference is in the Sevens game.

We are three tournaments in and four months from now we will know, whom the four teams are that have qualified for the Olympics - leaving eight spots available.

After that there is a window that opens up for teams around the world to qualify through their regional organisations for the Olympics:
* Africa
* Asia
* Europe
* North America
* South America
* Oceania

That leaves us with two spots - yes it's only a 12 team tournament.

The first of those spots will be going to the host nation, Brazil.

The 12th and final spot will be played for in an all or nothing relegation tournament somewhere in the world. This tournament will consist of the teams that failed to win their regional qualifier.

"Is that it?" No its not, we still have yet to turn the page on the most intriguing piece and that is player selection and availability.

There are many players currently across the globe who are fighting hard for a position on the team and the squad of their country that will head to Rugby World Cup 2015.

Amongst some of these players lies an extraordinary few that also have an eye on another prize and that's the opportunity to win an Olympic medal.

This possibility and opportunity is distorted when you take a look at the Tier One nations versus the other Tier Two nations.

The first thing we need to recognise is that in most, if not all, of the Tier One countries, Sevens is definitely finding its foothold in a very distinct market and is appealing to a very specific athlete - with the real opportunity to make money and to have a career as a Sevens player.

More and more players are doing just that.

On the flip side of that though, there are many players that when drafted across the aisle to participate and compete for a spot on the 15-a-side team, that allure is something that is hard to ignore and its like a moth to a flame.

That journey is one that generally heads in one direction. It's not a free flowing conduit back and forth. That means that those players that do have a run at the Olympics are going to have to make some serious decisions and I think will be asked to commit to the Sevens program a minimum of six months prior to the Olympics.

For Tier Two nations, their circumstances find them in a situation that definitely does provide more of a conduit allowing for easier access from one code to the other for multiple reasons. Most don't have a professional domestic setup and the 15-a-side team outside of World Cup qualification years and the World Cup year itself, don't have enough consistency in a year round calendar.

The other major factor is purely the fact that there is just not enough depth in their talent pool to limit the flow between the two codes.

There are two very distinct decisions on the horizon.

The first will be in the qualification window. How many of the teams that are fighting for qualification, will start recruiting their players based overseas in professional competitions. How will that be handled by the 15-a-side staff, who are looking to prepare for the World Cup?

The second decision is how early will the players who are looking to make the move in those Tier One nations make it? And will it be forced upon them, by the coaching staff of the Sevens?

Could the 2015/16 World Series feature the likes of Brian Habana, Sonny Bill Williams and Quade Cooper?

That season also looks to suffer from the hangover of the Olympic qualification year, the year before.

With really nothing at stake as the teams would have qualified already, this then provides an opportunity to start integrating those players and really and truly working towards peaking at the right time and claiming the Olympic gold, the true pinnacle in sport.

For those that don't know, the Olympic Games will be hosted in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil from August 5 to 21.

It will be a magical year for rugby when we close the book on this year 11 months from now. We would have enjoyed the roller-coaster ride that will be the Olympic qualification process and the agonising drama and jubilation that we experience during the World Cup.

Starting next week we will be looking towards the first tournament of the New Year in Wellington, New Zealand as we start taking stock of points accumulated so far and the points we believe will be needed to finish in the Top 4.

By Matt Hawkins
@polarbearkzn
@rugby365com

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