RW caught up with 81-cap World Cup winner Matt Burke at the Sydney leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series for a chat about the new venue, the Sevens evolution and the Olympics
On Sydney as a location
“It was a belting weekend in Sydney. The move of location has been a success. The Sevens had time in Adelaide and the Gold Coast but moving to one of Australia’s major hubs, makes it more of a viable proposition to fill a stadium. We had crowds of over 75,000 over the weekend, which is a credit to organisers. They want to recreate what they do in Hong Kong. They know London has turned itself into a must-visit venue and Dubai is the same. Every leg has its own idiosyncrasies. It’s early days but I can see Sydney turning into a special weekend of Sevens.”
On party atmosphere
“Sevens has a party, fun atmosphere that is hard to beat. Just walking round, I’ve seen Luke Skywalker, guys dresses up as Mexicans, a bloke dressed like Crocodile Dundee. It’s promoting a fun time and because they’re 14-minute game, you can switch off, have a drink and another quality game starts up. It reminds me of being back in the Bigg Market in Newcastle back in the old days.”
On the World Cup legacy in Australia
“Rugby fans here are basking in the success of the Wallabies reaching the World Cup final in London and having a very positive tournament. We have to thank Michael Cheika and his boys for making us proud.
On the evolution of Sevens
“I played in the Hong Kong Sevens in 1993 and played in the first World Cup Sevens tournament in Scotland where we got dusted by the All Blacks in the final. Back then it was a case of fifteens blokes playing seven-a-side. I was speaking to Rod Kafer earlier, and we both joked, ‘could we keep up this intensity? I’m not sure we could’. They are proper athletes
On skills and fitness
“They are dedicated Sevens athletes these days. It is so specific now. It’s not just one tackle, it’s four or five in a row and then you’re expected to get up and throw a 20-metre pass onto the chest of your team-mate and score. As a spectator, you’re getting exhausted watching it. When I played, the whole goal was not to get tackled. You used the width, you backed off, gave away territory to find a gap. Now there’s more physicality. You watch games and there are four guys at the breakdown. You wonder, ‘who’s covering the rest of the field?’ The speed and skill levels are immense.” It’s the speed and noise in the contact is what surprises you.
On players to catch the eye
“There are so many stars on the Sevens circuit these days. Cam Clark, Savenaca Rawaka, Carlin Isles, Akira Ioane, Collins Injera, Seabelo Senatla are all big names. Now there’s Sonny Bill Williams, his contact skills and offloading hasn’t exactly been diminished, has it?
Sevens as an entry point to rugby
“I watched Kenya play South Africa and they were seriously competitive. Earlier on, Portugal gave the Wallabies a big scare by going 12-0 up. The old order is being challenged quicker than the 15-a-side game. Even in the World Cup, the blow-outs weren’t as heavy as we’ve seen in previous World Cups. Tier 2 sides are starting to compete and that’s down to better coaching and more investment which can only be good for the game.”
On the Olympics buzz
“The Olympics is a massive pull. I had a chat to the boys, I said ‘you will be known as Olympians’. For all I did, that’s not part of my resume. It’s an incredible opportunity. Lots countries are coming on board. It’s two-days in Rio, where they’re going to hammer it out and the winner will lift an Olympic Gold. How good is that? There is massive excitement from all rugby fans.”