Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Forget no name sevens, roll on star-studded nines

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No sport is perfect - rugby is what it is, with a lot of strong points, says Chris Rattue. Photo / Getty Images
No sport is perfect - rugby is what it is, with a lot of strong points, says Chris Rattue. Photo / Getty Images

The Wellington sevens tournament has been hit by a lot of negative publicity this year and the worst is yet to come.

A tournament packed with players who are, let's be honest, no-name whippets could be blown out of the water if - as looks certain - promoters Dean Lonergan and Duco get a high-profile NRL pre-season nines tournament firing in Auckland.

Rugby is hamstrung with sevens, because the world circuit falls between many stools whereas individual festivals can fit in with local seasons and allow the stars to take part. Rugby has taken a large part of the fun out of a fun game.

When it comes to promotional ability, rugby versus Lonergan is an unfair contest. Rugby sees itself as a national crusade, with dutiful spectators. In the other corner, Lonergan doesn't only promote the Fight for Life, he sees that as the promoter's credo because his livelihood is on the line.

His promotions involve contests between stars who excite the masses. Here's the tip - Deano and his mates will also be furiously feeding stories to the media, whereas rugby is in love with the Privacy Act.

Rugby sevens isn't a classic pro sport but more of a worldwide marketing ploy. On one hand, it fails in that regard. On the other, sevens has proved a spectacular success by gaining rugby entry into the Olympics.

But because people like New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens - whose guru status is on very shaky ground - are denied access to the stars and have turned sevens into a game full of largely anonymous running machines, a sport of potential has become a one-trick bore.

The league nines tournament sounds so much more interesting than rugby sevens, primarily because famous players with recognisable traits and skills will be involved. Those players will still be in true league mode yet with more space to produce the spectacular. And hey, the spectators can still dress up as nuns if they want, although getting drunk in public is another matter.

On a similar note, there was an interesting column in the Herald on Sunday about Australian moves to develop a hybrid game based on rugby and league.

What an awful prospect though. As someone who enjoys both codes, the status quo is fine.

League does not need to keep pretending it could go global - league is a fabulous yet niche sport by world standards, and there is no disgrace in that. All league needs to do is work harder to ensure the players are paid properly instead of treating them like serfs.

Meanwhile, rugby would be helped if its own people stopped moaning about the rules and the way the game is played. No sport is perfect - rugby is what it is, with a lot of strong points.

The two codes could meet in our sevens team for the Olympics, however. As the 2016 Games are in August, this would strike complications with regard to the football seasons. But let's conveniently overlook that for argument's sake, dream the dream first, and say that no situation is insurmountable.

So out with the no-names, and in with the stars people actually want to watch. Here is the first seven and a first reserve, the basis for the Olympic squad. There are, of course, a host of other proper footballers to consider.

Richie McCaw: Yes, yes - he's too old and can't run like a marathoner. But McCaw has the biggest motor in football, is a true warrior, and he'll inspire those around him. Bottom line - the man deserves to go to the Olympics. His presence will give the tournament and the New Zealand team an exalted status. Sevens aficionados will scream in horror of course - but stuff them.

Sonny Bill Williams: The delights of Hamilton, his love of the black jersey and the Kahuis' home cooking are not the reasons SBW might return to rugby. SBW wants to be an Olympian. Sonny Bill would be superb as a publicity magnet, brawny playmaker and big hit merchant.

Benji Marshall: The finest magician at our disposal - the Kiwi league captain would be a sensation with more space on the field and inspire kids around the world to learn how to make their bodies go three different ways at once.

Shaun Johnson: The Warriors' halfback should be an automatic selection. Johnson has the speed, trickery and nous to be an unstoppable nightmare for opposing defences.

Zac Guildford: One All Black who already has traits made for sevens. Guildford has speed and a natural instinct for following the game around seeking holes in defences.

Dane Coles: The Hurricanes hooker and new All Black is my surprise pick perhaps. But Coles combines the strength of a frontrower with the pace, ball skills, anticipation and enthusiasm to play like a back. He could be an advance on fading sevens warhorse DJ Forbes.

Glen Fisiiahi: The Warriors' cruise missile can be lethal. Fisiiahi looks as though he is jogging until you notice that everyone around him appears to have almost stopped.

TJ Perenara: The first reserve. Something says the Wellington halfback is the most exciting rugby prospect we've had for a while, although the full evidence isn't quite there. Scintillating skills though.

And finally, congratulations, Kenya, on scoring one of sport's most unexpected upsets.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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