London Irish came from behind to achieve an astonishing victory on Friday night in the final of the JP Morgan sevens series at the rec, a victory that is particularly pertinent whilst the greatest show on earth is gracing east London.
Its relevance becomes clear as we look towards the introduction of rugby sevens into the Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, and with sevens Britain has a sport that we will expect to continue the trend of medal success that has been seen in this year’s games. The big question is over just how specialist a sport sevens has become. London Irish’s success was built on the work of outstanding players from the fifteen a side game such as Jonathan Joseph, Joe Ansbro, Marland Yarde and Tom Homer to but a few.
Thus, would a side consisting of Chris Ashton, Alex Cuthbert, George North, Christian Wade, Tom Croft, Jonathan Joseph and Manu Tuilagi do better than a side consisting of Matt Turner, Dan Norton, Chris Cracknell , John Brake, Rob Vickerman, Tom Mitchell and James Rodwell?
Chris Ashton is a player that has recently said he would be interested in representing Great Britain in Rio if the opportunity arises. That would essentially mean taking a sabbatical from the fifteen a side game for a year to concentrate wholly on sevens; a challenging decision with the 2015 world cup taking place 9 months before.
England sevens coach Ben Ryan said of the suggestion of Ashton taking to sevens: “How would someone like Chris Ashton perform in sevens? I just don’t know. You’d be a bit of a fool if you didn’t look at the possibilities. At the same time I’ve got guys in the programme who, in four years time will be there or thereabouts for GB. We’ve got a specialised squad for very good reasons”.
The argument against this is whether these players have only become ‘specialist’ because they weren’t good enough at the fifteen a side game, thus would the best from the fifteen a side game be transfer their ability to sevens? It’s a question that needs to be answered as the feel good factor the country has experienced from the success over the last few days needs to be continued, not only for the simple fact that it feels good, but for the good it will do for the game as a whole if Britain comes home with gold.