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Stephen Lewis on USA Rugby National Club 7s Championship

USA Rugby published a press release yesterday detailing changes in it’s club 7s competition format. The article lists updates to the USA Rugby National Club 7s Championship qualifying events that take place across the country and are used to select the teams that will compete to be the top rugby 7s team in the country.

Some of the changes include:

  • Simplified eligibility rules for non-citizens
  • Increased roster size of up to 13 players including one “traveling reserve player”
  • Limiting qualifying events in any geographic/competitive region to between two and four events
  • More flexible seeding among geographic/competitive regions
  • An event certification process to be administered by USA Rugby’s 7s working group

But perhaps the biggest change announced in the press release is the creation of “Open Qualifiers” for the men’s USA Rugby National Club 7s Championship. Two events, held in Eastern and Western parts of the country, will serve to identify two wild card teams as the winners will automatically qualify for the USA Rugby National Club 7s Championship.

Attending Lakefront 7s? Click to read our eligibility rules.

Stephen Lewis on changes to the USA Rugby National Club 7s Championship

To get a deeper understanding on the changes we spoke to Stephen Lewis, the chair of the 7s working group and head coach of the Men’s Collegiate All-Americans Sevens team at USA Rugby.

Mr. Lewis made a few points very clear. First, the goal of the 7s working group is to improve the consistency and quality of tournaments at the elite end of club rugby so that the very best teams end up at the national championship. Mr. Lewis went on to describe the model as a “hybrid between performance and geography”.

Second, Mr. Lewis stressed that requirements for the event certification process noted in the press release (details for which remain  forthcoming) would not be heavy-handed. Rather than mandating requirements, the certification process would involve encouraging all qualifying events to “be the best version of themselves”. For example, this might include providing medical services on-site throughout the entire tournament and having consistent rest time between matches.

Other interesting details from our telephone interview with Mr. Lewis include:

  • Local Area Unions (LAUs) will continue to manage which events are selected as qualifiers
  • USA Rugby has limited bandwidth to force events to comply with their certification guidelines, but presumably event organizers who want to maximize their chance to be selected as a qualifier will do their best to meet the recommendations
  • The changes for the 2018 sevens season are experimental and lessons learned from the upcoming season are likely to be used to further evolve the club 7s competition format

Questions remain

After speaking with Mr. Lewis, some questions remain regarding qualifying events for the national club 7s championship:

  1. Sanctioning. USA Rugby currently has an official event sanctioning process. Although Mr. Lewis has indicated that the certification “process” will be recommendations, it seems likely that all events leading to a national championship will need sanctioning. We will be looking for clarification on this detail from the 7s working group in the coming weeks.
  2. Liability Insurance. Related to the question of event sanctioning is liability insurance. If sanctioning by USA Rugby is specifically required for certification by the 7s working group, we at the Lakefront 7s recommend that a waiver be available for events that carry independent liability insurance.
  3. Certification Process Timeline. Mr. Lewis indicated that details of event certification process/recommendations would be available in a few weeks.
  4. LAU Collaboration. As noted above, LAUs will still be tasked with selecting qualifying events (except for the open events as described above). Historically, LAUs have strict eligibility requirements for events to be considered for qualifier status. We hope that LAUs will collaborate well with USA Rugby’s 7s working group, adopt their recommendations, and perhaps soften their approach to be more in line with Mr. Lewis’s idea of encouragement vs. mandate.
  5. Midwest Open Qualifier. As the largest summer rugby event in the country and being located in Milwaukee, we at the Lakefront 7s would like to see the open event concept expanded slightly to include the Midwest. We believe this is best way to provide geographic parity for the wild card pathway to the national rugby 7s championship.

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