Masterminded by Ben Ryan, the former Olympic gold medal-winning Fiji sevens coach, RugbyX, a new format of the game approved by World Rugby will be trialled at the O2 Arena in London in October.
Speaking to Sport Industry Group, the RugbyX Technical Director explains how the five-a-side version will go about reaching new audiences and boosting participation at grassroots level.
What is RugbyX and why is it different to the sport we already know?
The main differences are the size of the field, the number of players and the amount of set pieces that we’ve taken out of the game to make it as clean and as simple as possible. Gone are kick offs, conversions, competitive scrums and line outs and that gives us back about 25% of ball-in-play time.
And how is it different to Sevens?
Sevens is played on a full-sized pitch with traditional 15-a-side laws adapted, whereas RugbyX is played on a smaller pitch with only five players per team and with adjusted laws for a fast-paced, technical game. The first event is at The O2, so the pitch dimensions are 32m in width, by 55m in length. Obviously that’s comparatively a lot smaller than a full size pitch in seven-a-side but it means we are going to compact the skills. And because we’ve got less players as well, there’s still going to be space.
How do those differences impact the game?
We are really looking to give players the opportunity to express themselves in this format of the game and those that are able to produce high levels of skill and flair in tight areas will thrive at RugbyX. It is not our intention to attempt to replace or challenge sevens, in fact the contrary; there are a variety of technical elements of RugbyX that will supplement the sevens game such as evasion, one-on-one tackling and offloads so we hope that RugbyX will help players develop their game as a whole.
Do you have any grassroots goals for RugbyX?
At grassroots level this is an incredibly accessible version of the game. Because you only need a small area - because you don’t need the technicalities around the set piece - you can get people on board pretty quickly with this version of the game. Obviously there’s contact, so you have to teach correct tackle techniques as you would do with any version of contact sport, but ultimately it’s a really easy version of the game to get going very quickly without too much of a back story or experience required.
Where does this format fit into wider rugby landscape?
We want to attract a young audience that perhaps hasn’t ever watched any form or variance of the game before and RugbyX is their entry level. We have also retained a number of the core values of rugby in terms of run, throw, kick and pass which we hope will maintain the interest of existing rugby fans.
We are aligning with World Rugby to make sure RugbyX doesn’t overlap or clash with any other important competitions and a good example is we are putting RugbyX on in between the semi finals and the final of Rugby World Cup 2019 in October which gives opportunity for supporters, young and old, to come and watch some live rugby.
What are the commercial goals for the sport?
The immediate ambition for RugbyX is to simply stage a successful event in year one that is enjoyed by fans, players and unions that we can build on and develop going forward. We are really looking forward to seeing how the players and coaches take to the new format and rules, and this will be critical in establishing RugbyX as part of the game of rugby long term. Based on the success of the event and discussions with World Rugby, it is then our ambition to take RugbyX into multiple UK, European and global venues in future years.
Rugby is a sport focused on growing the women’s game; does RugbyX have plans to engage women right from the off?
Women’s sport is becoming more and more popular and rightly so. We are targeting a range of demographics with RugbyX, with an over-arching goal to get more people playing and watching rugby and women are definitely part of this.
Much like participation at grassroots level, we need to continue to provide routes into rugby for girls in all age groups and we hope that this simplified format of the game will facilitate this. We have held a couple of trial matches which included Wasps’ women’s team against the England Sevens women’s team and it was an excellent spectacle, we’re really excited to see more of the same in October.
Who are the broadcast partners for RugbyX?
The full event is going to be broadcast by ITV4. As we have created a brand new format of rugby, it is key for us to be able to televise RugbyX on a major terrestrial free-to-air UK broadcaster and we’re really happy to announce this as ITV.
With RugbyX falling in between the semi-final and final of the Rugby World Cup, we hope to be able to capitalise on the increased excitement around the sport and this gap in the schedule will allow promotion of RugbyX coverage on ITV. We are also in discussions with a range of Rugby World Cup and non-Rugby World Cup broadcasters regarding international licenses of live RugbyX coverage.
Do you have any commercial partners or sponsors already on board?
We were really happy to announce Hilton as the Official Hotel Partner for RugbyX as well as UPS as the Official Logistics Partner. To have the backing of two established brands such as Hilton and UPS shows great commitment to what we are trying to achieve and the huge potential that RugbyX has. We anticipate announcing a further two partners between now and event day.