Trouble Brewing at HQ Over Combined XVs/7s Training Squad: 7s Players Boycott Practice
First clue as to the trouble brewing came when Nathan Hirayama and Harry Jones publicly expressed dissatisfaction over social media. Hirayama contesting Rugby Canada's line that 7s is a development tool for XVs.
Harry Jones also spoke out, perhaps referring to the loss of 7s staff including assistant coach Lee Douglas.
Next there was a report on the Dog River Howler's facebook page.
None of the Canadian 7’s players showed up for the all new combined 7’s / 15’s academy training yesterday. They of course have been told their funding would be cut to give some $ to the 15’s players now in the newly combined program. Further to that they were told that if they do not sign their new contacts by 4pm today the contracts would be given to new players . The Hong Kong Foundation (a group of businessmen who are traditional supporters of the RC 7’s team) in turn offered to make up the difference in the contract amounts which RC turned down!
I am not sure threatening players is in the modern handbook of rugby administration. This is a repeat of last year. Their paycut is equivalent to about 1500 tickets for Vancouver Sevens. I wonder how many fewer tickets will be sold if they don't have Hirayama, Douglas, Jones et al.
Then today Canadian Press ran an article with the headline Sevens players boycott Rugby Canada sessions, upset at new reorganization. The article claims "The reorganization has pitted the 15s against the sevens with a source describing the current situation as toxic."
It brings up a lot questions about how Rugby Canada got to this place and what the potential consequences are. Worst case scenario is Canada doesn't qualify for the World Cup and the 7s program is damaged in the process. Best case scenario is Canada does qualify for the World Cup and the 7s program continues on at its current level or improves.
The men's XVs program has deteriorated severely in recent years, when the decline started and the reasons behind it are hotly debated topics. It's likely not one factor but a number of factors that have contributed. The 7s program on the other hand is still a viable entity, competitive on the world stage. After watching the recent U20 performance at the second tier JWRT tournament it's safe to say the 7s program is the only men's team that is competitive at World level. It's a fragile position that's accomplished on a modest budget. They have been the only domestic based professional rugby players in Canada. They are different games XVs and 7s, different skills highlighted, different strategies and different optimized fitness goals.
Take a look at one player as an example, Luke Bradley. It's a story of player mismanagement really, one where the player, his family and friends come away with a bitter taste for the national program and its promises. Luke came out of the national U20 program looking like a #8 for the future, he was 235 lbs in his young XVs career. If he had continued on the XVs stream he likely would have gone to 240 with added muscle, in his 2014 profile he listed "lifting weights" as his hobby. He played Canada U20 in 2015 and 2016, in 2015 Canada came second to Georgia. He got into the 7s stream after that and slimmed down to 210 but was put on the shelf and barely used. For the last two years Luke Bradley has not played very much rugby, rarely used by the 7s team and not allowed to play XVs. What a waste of talent. Now word we hear is that neither the 7s or XVs program will card him for the upcoming season. We hope we're wrong on that. Both sides of the discussion could use this example to support their argument, he should have been able to play XVs when not used by 7s, he should have been used more by the 7s program but how on earth are you going to train a player to be a 240 lb beast at #8 and a 210 lb 7s player capable of 14 minutes of sprinting at the same time? What it seems to come down to is using common sense in bending the policy rules when it's in the player's and rugby's interest. Sometimes players need to be on the field at any level playing rugby, 7s or XVs, and sometimes they need to be rested and used for a specific purpose. Evaluations need to be on a shorter cycle and domestic professional pathways should be open to players in both 7s and XVs.
It doesn't answer the question of who is right in this discussion but hopefully common sense and the best interests of the players and rugby will prevail.