Dubai: With standards in the HSBC Rugby Sevens World Series rising, legends of the game Martin Offiah and Jason Robinson believe picking a winner is becoming increasingly difficult.
England suffered a shock defeat to Spain in the bowl final of the series-opening Gold Coast Sevens last month, proving the gulf in class between newcomers and traditional powerhouses is ever narrowing.
Heading into a World Cup year in 2013 along with the development of smaller nations ahead of the sport’s 2016 Olympic inclusion, that margin is only going to decrease, according to the former England legends.
Offiah, 45, a former dual code wing, who represented England and Great Britain at 15s level from 1988 to 1996 said: “There’s always a surprise watching these tournaments. One of the smaller teams can make a bolt out of the blue and win it.
“It’s about starting strongly in the pool and putting in a good run in the playoffs stages — there’s only seven on the pitch, so what with injuries and rested players, if you take two out of the equation it can change the complexion of a team.”
He added: “What with the Olympics, more countries are putting a lot more funding into this format and we are seeing stronger performances from the smaller nations. Despite there being favourites it’s sometimes hard to pick.”
Robinson, 38, another ex-dual code England and Great Britain player from 1993 to 2007, winning the Rugby Union World Cup in 2003, added: “You can’t take things for granted anymore. It’s about the bounce of a ball, if someone gets a score down anything can happen.
“Everybody wants to invest and what with the Olympic inclusion smaller teams are really coming on. That’s also because of the World Series. If you want to be the best you have to compete in that environment and that’s what this tournament offers.
“We used to see the minnows beaten by big scores but that gap keeps narrowing and that’s great for the lower nations.”
Both players are representing the Joining Jacks team in the International Veterans division. Their waterboy is none other than 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins.