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Sevens knockout format under scrutiny after World Cup

In a break from tradition, this year’s World Cup Sevens scrapped the usual round-robin stage in favour of a single-elimination knockout © AFP / Mark RALSTON

SAN FRANCISCO, United States, Jul 23 World Rugby chiefs have declared the “brutal” knockout format of the World Cup Sevens a success but coaches have urged officials to think twice before using the same system more widely.

In a break from tradition, this year’s tournament scrapped the usual round-robin stage in favour of a single-elimination knockout, raising the stakes from the opening rounds.

Yet while the format change created undeniable drama, with Australia a notable casualty on the opening day, some players and coaches remain unconvinced whether the experiment should continue.

World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper said the move to straight knockout had been a hit with fans.

“It played into the drama of the tournament,” Gosper said.

“We’re getting a lot of positive feedback from fans about the drama of knockout. It makes each game exciting. It can be brutal for teams, but sport’s brutal. What can you say?”

New Zealand coach Clark Laidlaw, however, remained unimpressed.

“I haven’t changed my mind,” Laidlaw said after his team romped to victory over England in Sunday’s final at AT&T Park.

“I don’t enjoy the format,” Laidlaw added. “Ultimately once you’re through the first day, every tournament is straight knockout anyway. So it’s not actually any different from a rugby perspective. As a spectacle I’m sure everyone enjoyed it.

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“But when you’ve got coaches and players’ livelihoods at stake, and the format isn’t quite what we’re paid to do… It’s an interesting question.”

– Pros and Cons –

England coach Simon Amor, meanwhile, said that while he was not opposed to the knockout system being used in one-off tournaments, he did not support its introduction on the international circuit.

“I don’t think it works in the series,” Amor said. “Because one game on one day is not really the nature of sevens. You need a couple of games. But as a standalone one-off event it’s okay.”

England captain Tom Mitchell said the switch to single elimination had been “interesting.”

“I am not totally sold on the new format to be honest,” he said. “There are pros and cons to it –- it is up to World Rugby to keep mixing things up, keep it fresh and work out things that keep improving the game.”

World Rugby officials toasted the conclusion of a successful tournament which saw 102,000 fans attend over the three days of competition.

The first ever World Cup event held on US soil will inevitably stoke speculation over the possibility of the United States one day mounting a bid for the 15-a-side competition.

While World Rugby has demonstrated a willingness to take the tournament to new frontiers — Japan will host the event for the first time in 2019 — Gosper cautioned that any bid for the event would likely face stiff competition.

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“I think (the USA) is obviously going to be a destination for the World Cup one day,” Gosper said. “It’s up to USA Rugby to organise themselves and put forward a magnificent bid.

“There’s a big queue of countries looking to host, in the North and South Hemispheres. “We would love to see (the USA) put in a strong bid and we know that they’d be capable of it.”

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