Lapasset sees star-quality Sevens WC
The prospect of rugby sevens becoming an Olympic sport in 2016 will attract stars from the full version of the game to the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Russia, the supremo of world rugby said on Tuesday.
Bernard Lapasset, the chairman of the International Rugby Board (IRB), told AFP that the inclusion of sevens in the 2016 Rio Olympics was also helping expand the appeal of the sport to new regions like Africa and Asia.
Moscow is to host the Rugby World Cup Sevens in June in a cornerstone of the IRB's drive to make rugby a truly global sport and boost its appeal in Russia, a country with huge potential to develop the game.
"Bearing in mind the fact that the World Cup is the last major event remaining before sevens' Olympic debut at the 2016 Games in Rio, we expect the best of the best rugby players to come to Moscow," said Lapasset.
"It's a unique occasion for the world's best rugby players to become a part of the unique event."
The fast nature of sevens has meant that the shorter version of the game has attracted its own specialists but Lapasset said he expected big names from the traditional 15-aside rugby to compete in Moscow.
"The World Cup is an important competition itself but it will also be a qualifying tournament for the Olympic Games.
"I'm sure that not only the sevens specialists but also the classic rugby 15's greatest stars will come to Moscow to battle for their countries."
He did not detail names, but players of the calibre of Sonny Bill Williams, Liam Messam and league stand-out Benji Marshall have been cited as candidates to play for New Zealand in the Olympic sevens.
Lapasset told AFP that he considered rugby sevens to be the perfect starting point for any new country trying its skills in this game, despite the differences in the two formats.
"Classic rugby and sevens are completely different games," he said. "They are different in tactics, in speed and in physical approach to the game.
"The classic rugby 15 looks a lot more tactical and complex game but it's a more traditional sport while sevens is a sport for the new generations of players, both men and women."
The Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow will be contested not just by the traditional powerhouses of the game but also upcoming rugby nations like Kenya and complete newcomers like the Phillipines.
A women's competition – featuring nations from champions Australia to Brazil – will run in parallel with the men's events.
"Being an Olympic sport, sevens are more attractive for players all around the world. It's the way to make rugby popular for many new countries." said Lapasset.
"There are more than 150 members in IRB now and they are all playing sevens. It's a fantastic figure."
He said the two forms of the game were complementary and success in sevens for emerging rugby nations would lead to success in the classic 15-aside.
"We (IRB) are trying to keep the good balance between those two games. But sevens are a very good point to start for the national rugby union (federation).
"Success in sevens may seriously boost interest in classic rugby in those countries and to raise the game there to a completely new level."