irbsevens.com and James Mortimer 05.Feb.2013Getty Images
With four rounds played so far, New Zealand lead the World Series from second-placed Kenya, while at the other end of the points table an intriguing picture is already emerging as to who might be involved in the promotion / relegation battle at the end of the season in London.
At the Marriott London Sevens, the ninth and final round of the Series on 11-12 May 2013, 12 teams will play in a top-tier competition for World Series points, while eight others will compete for three core team places on the 2013/14 Series. These eight will comprise five regional sides - the Asian champions Hong Kong plus the four top-placed teams in the 12-team Series pre-qualifier to be staged as part of Hong Kong’s biggest ever Sevens – and the bottom three-ranked core teams after the eighth round in Glasgow.
If that cut-off were to happen today on the current Series standings, Scotland, Spain and USA would find themselves in that relegation battle for places at Twickenham with the regional qualifiers from Hong Kong.
This extra dimension, announced by the IRB in September 2012, is guaranteed to intensify the action at Round 5 of the Series in Las Vegas on 8-10 February.
The introduction of the exciting new format is in line with the comprehensive IRB Sevens Strategic Plan that was developed in partnership with the IRB's Member Unions and approved by the IRB Council in November 2011. It also reflects the IRB's mission to deliver a pathway that ensures all Member Unions have a transparent and merit-based opportunity to qualify for the Olympic Games in 2016.
IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset, said: "In the short term, this battle for Series points is wonderful news for the fans as it guarantees even more quality and intensity on the pitch in Wellington and Las Vegas.
"Going further forward into our first four-year Olympic cycle for Rugby Sevens building towards Rio 2016, it is important that the opportunity exists for all nations to progress to Series core team status if they are good enough.
"We are confident that this system provides every nation competing in their regional qualifying tournament with a direct chance to gain core team status and compete on every round of the World Series, and also ensures a transparent opportunity-for-all pathway to the Games.”