The Wales Sevens side managed to retain core status in the HSBC World Sevens Series for 2019/20 on the weekend, bettering the result of Japan in Paris to see the Cherry Blossoms relegated.
There was little time for celebration though, as on the back of that there has been some discussion over how the Sevens setup in Wales can go about improving fortunes, with some calling into question whether it’s actually worth continuing to fund a team in the World Series anyway.
This isn’t a discussion limited to Wales, with the future of England’s side being debated as the RFU go through cost-cutting measures. As the Welsh Rugby Union are set to make a £5m loss this year, it’s fair to say there will be a review on this side of the Severn Bridge too.
There is a feeling that Sevens is an almost entirely separate sport to XVs, and the disconnect between Wales being the third best team in the World in XVs, and the 14th best team in the World in Sevens, seems to be evidence of that.
As a result it appears to me as if there are two potential reasons to continue with a Wales Sevens team; properly go for it in a Sevens sense and try to compete at the top end for greater financial reward, or improve the development aspect of the squad when it comes to developing XVs players.
The first of those is pretty much a non-starter due to the lack of money in the HSBC World Sevens Series. Hong Kong Sevens currently has the largest total prize money pot, and that is $150,000.
Coach of Sevens big-hitters USA, Mike Friday, recently noted that some of his players were actually taking home a wage that saw them living below the poverty line. This is a country with a huge economy and a side that regularly reaches the semi-finals of tournaments not able to play their players a living wage.
When you see the half-empty stadiums that some of the World Series events are played in front of, the picture is that of a sport which pushes the exciting and fast-paced nature of games but that has failed to capture the imagination everywhere it goes.
Sevens has been excellent at growing the game of rugby as a whole in some emerging countries, such as Spain, Canada, USA and Kenya, but with that not being necessary in tier one XVs nations, the idea that we should concentrate on regularly competing at the top level of the Sevens Series is perhaps one that would struggle to take off.
Therefore the reason for continuing the Wales Sevens side is as part of the professional development pathway, improving the transferrable skills on offer to young players, something which the WRU have been clear is an aim for many years, but it is obvious we need to improve on going forward.
This season’s poor performance in the World Sevens Series has no doubt not been helped by the departures of stalwarts in the form of Adam Thomas, Luke Morgan and Sam Cross, but the young players selected to come into the squad have not been entirely successful.
From a Cardiff Blues perspective we have seen Dane Blacker involved, and allowed to leave for Scarlets, Ben Jones and Cameron Lewis involved, both of whom have now been released, and Dafydd Smith listed as a Cardiff Blues player but having not played a competitive game of XVs since January 2018 that I can see.
If the Sevens programme is going to continue unquestioned it needs to improve its ability to select young players that would benefit from the skills improvement the sport can offer, as well as better managing their schedules to ensure they progress as XVs players primarily.
For example, a young half-back can take improved handling and space awareness skills from a stint with the Sevens, but mainly needs XVs minutes to ensure their game management and control skills are up to scratch for the senior professional game.
Hopefully this year was just a one-off disappointment, but 2019/20 could well be a defining one for the future of the Wales Sevens side.