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England 7s scrapped: What’s a governing body’s job, and what now for young hopefuls?

Among those to suffer from the many cuts at the RFU will be England 7s, who are having their funding scrapped.

Plenty of column inches have been devoted to that decision, why it has happened, the terrible situation that it leaves all of the players and staff in, scrutiny of the 7s programme over the last decade or so, and plenty more, however perhaps the most question, at least to this writer, is this: What is the RFU for?

Common consent would seem to be that it is to run the England teams and to run and support the community game, from school to club to University, and beyond.

However, if the RFU can no longer support its representative teams, is it doing its job?

Nobody should pretend that it was a decision that was taken lightly, or that we are not in the midst of perhaps the most unpredictable time in modern history. Undoubtedly the RFU accounts are running dry and horrifically tough decisions had to be made.

To essentially stop doing their job, though, is that genuinely justifiable?

We are not privy to the detail behind the scenes, the many conversations that will have happened. But in very simply terms (and in very rough numbers to make it easy), the senior fifteen-a-side England men get circa £25,000 a game per player, so £575,000 per game in total. Let’s say there are 10 games a year, that’s £5,750,000 a year. Given that in tearing up the 7s contracts the RFU have demonstrated that contracts are not fixed beasts, let’s say they cut that per player rate for the 15s players from 25 to 20. That’s £4,600,000 a year, or a saving of £1,150,000 – albeit all done there on very rounded numbers to keep the maths easy. However, enough to run a 7s programme of some description, one would think.

Perhaps they had a look at that and decided it was not enough or was not possible. We could be being very unfair.

The point is this though, governing bodies have a habit of wanting control over nearly every aspect of the sport that they govern in their country. People accept that because the trade-off is that it is all for us as players, fans, coaches, media, whoever, be it through the obvious like running the game from the community level upwards, helping to develop coaches and referees, support through funding, insurance policies, and so much more. It is all for the benefit of those in their nation that are playing the game – and by and large they to a hell of a job.

The other thing they are supposed to do, though, is represent us on the field. At their core, national teams are not the Union’s they are ours. Scrap the national teams and everyone has the right to say, ‘what gives you the right?’.

Imagine that it was the senior England XV that was being scrapped and think how you would feel then. It is exactly the same with 7s being scrapped it might not have the same draw, but it represents the same thing, you.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy from our perspective, though, is that is represents another avenue for young players that has been removed. The England Counties programme has been scrapped and they ran Senior, U20s, and U18 sides, it was a programme that offered young players a genuine route into the game and was a brilliant avenue for later developers to go through. 7s might not have been used as it used to (and how Scotland currently do, hence their reticence to create a permanent Team GB), to give young 15s players a chance to play and develop their game. In the mid-2000s it was a valuable part of the performance pathway.

It existed less as an avenue in that sense in more recent years, but it was still a fantastic route to a career in the game for school leavers. When he was in charge, Simon Amor was often to be seen prowling the touchlines at the Rosslyn Park HSBC National School 7s and some wonderful school players got the opportunity to represent their country at 7s, among the great success stories being Ethan Waddleton, a star at St Joseph’s College who missed out on a contract in XVs but who has become an established figure in the England 7s setup.

COVID has caused turmoil and heartbreak in so many industries, but if its lasting impact in rugby here in England is that young players have fewer avenues and opportunities then its impact is going to be worse on this wonderful sport of ours than any of us might have imagined.

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