The inaugural RugbyX kicks off this afternoon, with a number of nations from around the world challenging for the first trophy at the O2 arena.
The crowds will be treated to full contact 5-aside rugby on a half-sized pitch, where there will be no lineouts, no conversions and a one on one decider should the scores be tied at full-time.
With many of the teams including the best sevens players on the circuit, this new style of rugby is set to be electric and promises excitement throughout.
Sports Gazette was pitchside during Monday’s training day and spoke to the players and coaches who revealed just how excited they were to be part of this historic event.
“It’s great to be down here on a rugby pitch in the middle of the O2, it looks box office and it will be an unbelievable atmosphere and a great setting to play a form of rugby,” said Mike Friday, USA men’s coach.
“It’s a bit narrower than I thought though, the racehorses are just having a look around hoping for a few more yards to run about. But it will be an interesting affair and an exciting one where players will have to find a way around as they play.”
The chance to play in front of thousands at the O2 is something that will be cherished as Seraphine Okemba from the French Women’s side explained.
“I’m really looking forward to playing here, especially in this big stadium that I’ve never been to before, I’m really impressed.
“We’re here to enjoy it, to have fun and to play our game.”
The pitch size was just one of many changes that the RugbyX format brought in. Although diving into the unknown, the players were looking forward to seeing how the tournament played out and how everyone adapts to the new environment.
“We’re really excited to see this new form of the game and how we can manipulate it,” explained Kayla Canett USA women’s captain.
“It’s a lot narrower, and a lot shorter but it will just come down to individual skills,” said Ireland captain Billy Dardis.
“They’ll be a lot of one on one’s in attack and defence, it doesn’t really matter what size the pitch is we will just have to get stuck in. It’ll come down to individuals who can use their feet or tackle really well.”
His coach James Topping noted how RugbyX offers the opportunity for teams to express themselves in a different way to what they’re used to doing.
“You might see some different styles of play within the teams, it’ll be interesting to see. We’ve got a few matches, the first match will be a bit of a learning curve for a lot of teams.
“I think substitutions could be a big factor in it, those guys coming on, whether you have the right combination on the pitch at the right time. Do they have a good attacking team on, do we have our best defenders on, it’s huge and it’s going to be really interesting,” said Topping.
The Barbarians have spared no expense drafting in five gold medal-winning Fijian’s amongst a squad with a number of very talented players. Kyle Brown, the former Springbok sevens captain, explained how the Barbarians were still trying to get their head around all the rule changes.
“It’s exciting five on five, but it’s not as small as I thought, we will still be doing plenty of running tomorrow, there’s going to be brand new opportunities, a whole different game,” said Brown.
“Everyone is feverishly trying to figure things out, how they’re going to play, what strategies there are, so a lot to figure out still.
“We’ve managed to get five Fijians, were very happy about that. The Fijians are so typical, this is really right up their alley, so it is going to be pretty enjoyable watching them,” he added.
The tournament will showcase some of the quickest and most agile sevens players in the world, but the small-sided nature also allows those who rely on their strength and power to shine as well.
“I haven’t been known to run around people very much so it’ll suit me perfectly” said Danny Barrett USA men’s captain.
“We’ll have to see how Carlin (Isles) and Perry (Baker) do and it’ll be really interesting to see how teams play. Hopefully, I’ll be the power game and that’s about it, no one else wants to deal with that but we’ll see.”
Whilst there will be a good atmosphere out there on the pitch, and a party atmosphere in the crowd, the teams still have that competitive edge wanting to get their hands on the first-ever RugbyX trophy.
“This is the first one and even if there is no pressure we still want to win it,” explained David Courteix, coach of the French Women’s side.
His side will face a strong USA team who are notorious for their success on the seven’s pitch. Belief is high in the camp with Alev Kelter confident they can transfer those skills over to the O2 tomorrow.
“Absolutely, We’re going to take it one step at a time to see how the game will suit our players, and how we move around the pitch to be successful.”
This afternoon’s tournament looks set to be a cracker with a number of incredibly strong men and women’s teams on show. Make sure you’re following the Sports Gazette for all the updates.