The IRB Sevens World Series, known officially as the HSBC Sevens World Series since the 2010-11 season through sponsorship from banking group HSBC, is an annual series of international rugby sevens tournaments run by the International Rugby Board featuring national sevens teams. The series, organised for the first time as the World Sevens Series in the 1999-2000 season, was formed to develop an elite-level competition series between rugby nations and develop the sevens game into a viable commercial product for the IRB.
Teams compete for the Sevens World Series title by accumulating points based on their finishing position in each tournament. New Zealand had originally dominated the Series, winning each of the first six titles from 1999-2000 to 2004-05, but since then, Fiji, South Africa and Samoa have each won titles.
New Zealand has been by far the dominant force in the IRB World Sevens Series, winning eleven out of the 14 seasons, and winning the first six seasons. However, since 2005, several other teams have successfully challenged New Zealand's dominance. Fiji, long a power in sevens, were winners in 2005-06; South Africa won in 2008–09; and Samoa claimed the 2009–10 crown. Other strong contenders in recent years have included England, Australia, and Argentina, all of whom have won an event within the last two seasons. Many minor rugby nations have become competitive as well. Seven of the current 15 "core teams" that participate in all series events represent nations that are not within the traditional top tier of the 15-man game—Samoa, Fiji, Canada, Kenya, Portugal, Spain, and the USA.
Prior to the 2012 qualifying tournament, the most recent addition to the roster of core teams was the USA, which replaced its neighbor Canada for 2008–09.
The venues for the IRB Sevens World Series have evolved since the Series' beginning in 1999-2000, but the current format of the tournament emerged in the 2006-07 season, with the same 8 venues hosting every year since then, with the addition of Japan in 2011-12 and Argentina in 2013-14. As of the 2012–13 series, the World Series tour consists of nine legs. The 2011–12 season marked the return of Japan, a former tour stop, to the circuit.
The IRB announced on 26 June 2012 that the series would return to Argentina, which had last been part of the circuit in 2002. However, on 16 August, the Argentine Rugby Union announced that it would delay the launch of its event until the 2013–14 series, citing demands associated with the 2012 entry of the country's 15-a-side team into The Rugby Championship. However, the Argentine event was not held during the 2013-14 season, and does not appear as though it will be held in the 2014-15 edition of the competition.
The Australia 7s was previously held in Adelaide in April until 2011.
The South Africa 7s was first held in 1999 in Stellenbosch. It then moved to Durban for the next two editions, and then to George in 2002, where it remained for nine years. The 2011 edition was the first in Port Elizabeth.
The tour received 1,147 hours of air time in 2005–06; 530 of which was live, and was broadcast to 136 countries. By 2008–09, the hours of air time had increased to over 3,300, with 35 broadcasters airing the series in 139 countries and 15 languages. Broadcast time saw further increases for 2009–10, with 3,561 hours of air time (1,143 hours live) carried by 34 broadcasters in 141 countries and 16 languages. In 2010–11, 3,657 hours of coverage were aired (1,161 hours live), with the same number of broadcasters as the previous season but six new countries added. For that season, Sevens World Series programming was available in 332 million homes worldwide, with a potential audience of 760 million.
In October 2010, the International Rugby Board announced that they had concluded a 5-year deal with HSBC which granted them status as the first ever title sponsor of the IRB Sevens World Series. Through the accord, HSBC acquired title naming rights to all tournaments in the IRB Series, beginning with the Dubai Sevens on 3 December 2010. HSBC has since opted to sub-license the naming rights to individual tournaments, while retaining its name sponsorship of the overall series.
The all-time table of the IRB Sevens World Series shows the accumulated results of every team that has ever participated in the IRB Sevens World Series. The equity issues to include cases of partial participation in the various stages, even in these cases participation is considered total.
A group of 15 "core teams" is announced for each season, based on performances in the previous season, and each core team has a guaranteed place in all of that season's events. The core teams have been selected through a designated promotion/relegation process since the 2012-13 season. The core teams for the 2014-15 season are:
Through the 2011–12 series, the number of core teams was 12, but the number of core teams was expanded to 15 for 2012–13. The three extra teams were determined by a 12-team qualifying tournament held as part of the 2012 Hong Kong Sevens. The increase in the number of core teams did not directly lead to an increase in the size of the existing tournaments. However, two of the events were expanded because they became part of the IRB's new promotion and relegation system for core teams.
In the 2012–13 season, the top 12 core teams in the season table after the next-to-last round of the series in Glasgow retained their status for the following season. The remaining three core teams for 2013–14 were determined in a two-stage qualifying process:
The first stage was a World Series Qualifier held as part of the Hong Kong Sevens. Two qualifiers from each of the IRB's six regions competed. The 12 teams were drawn into pools, with the top eight teams advancing to a quarterfinal round. The winners of the four quarterfinal matches advanced to the final qualifying stage.
The final qualifying stage, the World Series Core Team Qualifier, was held as part of the London Sevens. The qualifying teams were joined by the winner of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series, plus the bottom three core teams following the Scotland Sevens. The qualifying tournament was conducted with a pool stage followed by knockout play, with the two finalists and the winner of the third-place match becoming core teams for the following season.
The IRB announced significant changes to the core team promotion/relegation process, effective with the 2013–14 series, on 9 October 2013:
The number of promotion/relegation places will be reduced from three to one.
The Pre-Qualifier will be folded into the Core Team Qualifier, which will involve 12 teams determined in regional qualifying and will be contested entirely at the Hong Kong Sevens. The champion of the Qualifier will receive core team status for the following season's series.
Relegation will be determined at the end of the London Sevens. The bottom-placed core team will be automatically relegated, with no opportunity to retain core status.
Sevens is a stripped-down version of rugby union from Scotland with seven players each side on a normal-sized field. Games are much shorter, lasting only seven or ten minutes each half, and tend to be very fast-paced, open, affairs. The game is quicker and higher-scoring than 15-a-side rugby and the rules are far simpler, which explains part of its appeal. It also gives players the space for superb feats of individual skill.
Sevens is traditionally played in a two-day tournament format, with the Hong Kong Sevens (an anomaly as a three-day event) being the most famous. Currently, in a normal event, 16 teams are entered. The Hong Kong Sevens had 24 teams through the 2011–12 series, but has featured 28 teams since 2012–13, with 15 core teams and the winner of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series competing for series points. At the 2013 event, the remaining 12 teams were those in the World Series Pre-Qualifier; from 2014 forward, the remaining 12 teams are those in the Core Team Qualifier. In 2012–13, the season-ending London Sevens expanded to 20 teams, with 12 competing for series points and eight involved in the Core Team Qualifier. With the promotion place now determined at the Hong Kong Sevens, the London Sevens will revert to the traditional 16-team format in 2013–14. The IRB operates satellite tournaments in each continent alongside the Sevens World Series which serve as qualifiers for Series events; in 2012–13 they also determined the entrants in the World Series Pre-Qualifier, and from 2013–14 determine the entrants in the Core Team Qualifier.
In each tournament, the teams are divided into pools of four teams, who play a round-robin within the pool. Points are awarded in each pool on a different schedule from most rugby tournaments—3 for a win, 2 for a draw, 1 for a loss, 0 for a no-show. In case teams are tied after pool play, the tiebreakers are:
Head-to-head result between the tied teams.
Difference in points scored and allowed during pool play.
Difference in tries scored and allowed during pool play.
Points scored during pool play.
As of the 2009–10 series, four trophies are awarded in each tournament. In descending order of prestige, they are the Cup, whose winner is the overall tournament champion, Plate, Bowl and Shield. In Hong Kong, the Shield was awarded for the first time in 2010. Each trophy is awarded at the end of a knockout tournament.
In a normal event, the top two teams in each pool advance to the Cup competition. The four quarterfinal losers drop into the bracket for the Plate. The Bowl is contested by the third and fourth-place finishers in each pool, while the Shield is contested by the losing quarterfinalists of the Bowl.
Originally, the six pool winners of the Hong Kong Sevens, plus the two highest-finishing second-place teams, advanced to the Cup. In 2010 and 2011, a different system was used:
The losing quarterfinalists in the Cup competition contested the Plate competition.
The four remaining second-place teams and the four best third-place teams, which contested the Plate in previous years, competed for the Bowl.
The remaining eight teams in the competition, which contested the Bowl in previous years, competed for the Shield.
In the transitional year of 2012, the Hong Kong Sevens was split into two separate competitions. The 12 core teams competed for the Cup, Plate and Bowl under a format similar to that of a regular event. The 12 invited teams all competed for the Shield, with the top three sides in that competition also earning core status for 2012–13. From 2013 on, the four trophies in Hong Kong will be contested under the same format used in regular 16-team tournaments. Only the 15 core teams, plus the winner of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series, now compete in the main draw of that event.
A third-place match is now conducted between the losing Cup semifinalists in all tournaments; this was introduced for the 2011–12 series.
The season championship is determined by points earned in each tournament. The IRB introduced a new scoring system for the 2011–12 series, in which all teams participating in a tournament are guaranteed points. Initially, the IRB announced the new points schedule only for the standard 16-team events; the allocations for the Hong Kong Sevens were announced later.
Starting with the 2012–13 series, all events have 16 teams competing for series points, except for the 2013 edition of the London Sevens (in which only 12 teams competed for series points).
Cup winner (1st place): 22 points
Cup runner-up (2nd place): 19 points
Cup third-place play-off winner (3rd place): 17 points
Cup third-place play-off loser (4th place): 15 points