Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

A gap in the market for RugbyX? USA Sevens Head Coach Mike Friday gives his verdict.

Posted on 5 November 2019 by Callum Room

After being approved by World Rugby earlier this year, RugbyX made its debut at the O2 arena last Tuesday. Masterminded by Fiji’s former gold medal-winning coach Ben Ryan, this new smaller 5-a-side, full contact version of rugby went down a treat.

Fans at the O2 were treated to two sessions of high energy, edge of your seat rugby which had everything from big hits to tries and controversy.

In the men’s competition, Argentina were crowned champions after defeating Ireland 25-15 in the final. On the women’s side, it was England who wrote themselves into the history books defeating the USA in a tense one on one shoot-out.

Whilst RugbyX certainly had some teething problems at its first event, coaches and players alike believe that it has a future and thoroughly enjoyed taking part.

Action from Rugby X at the O2 Arena, London/ Picture by Stella Pictures/@stellapicsltd 07813022858 29/10/2019

USA men’s head coach, Mike Friday spoke to the Sports Gazette on Tuesday noting how he believes RugbyX has a future in the game.

“I think that there’s a gap in the market for this sort of razzmatazz and fast-moving part of the game. It will inspire the younger generation and also create a really fun exciting event which corporately would appeal to the cities as well.”

“Its never going to compete with sevens or 15’s but could it sit as a spectacle. I liken it to the masters football that they do indoors,” he added.

“I think there’s a lot of synergies to what you see here with the darts where you create an event and then it’s all about how you attract the stars to come and how you convince coaches to release their players to participate,” said Friday.

The small-sided nature of RugbyX enables players to showcase and develop skills that aren’t often practised in a game situation whilst on the sevens circuit or in rugby union, this was something that Friday thought was useful.

“It gives individuals opportunities to try new things, one on ones, develop explore and hone in on existing skills. Especially for our boys who have got to learn how to kick and chip for themselves, there’s an opportunity for learning here.

“We just came into this and we were like let’s just explore and find out. Let’s just see where it brings us out. I said boys if you want to kick pass to yourself or kick into space you need to learn that skill either on the run or in limited space. There are little bits and pieces for players, and this is an opportunity under the spotlight,” said Friday.

Action from Rugby X at the O2 Arena, Londo/ Picture by Stella Pictures/@stellapicsltd 07813022858 29/10/2019

Looking forward to the future, USA’s head coach hinted at tactical changes he would make to his side so that they are more successful at the next tournament.

“I would look at bringing taller, longer, rangier players that can play through the contact area, like Ireland’s number four [Cormac Izuchukwu]. When you look at the Fijian boys and also the French boys, they’re very long-limbed and they’re causing problems.”

“It’s more suited to that sort of player, it’s narrower than you think so it doesn’t actually suit the racehorses. You haven’t really seen a lot of space and time for the likes of Perry Baker, Dan Norton and Carlin Isles. There’s not that type of space out there,” said Friday.

“Interestingly enough when Danny Barrett put the ball in at 9 from the scrum, no one was interested in him picking around the corner 5 yards out. So they’re the tactical nuances that you could do if you were to seriously look at how you were going to unpick this game,” explained Friday.

Whilst Friday used RugbyX as pre-season training for his players ahead of the sevens series which kicks off in Dubai in December, it’s clear that it has a place in the sphere of rugby. Whether in this form or a slightly adapted form is yet to be seen but the future looks bright for Ryan’s latest project.