Talking from Hong Kong, World Rugby's boss Alan Gilpin considers the value of star names for the sport of sevens

In the wake of Michael Hooper’s sevens debut in Hong Kong, World Rugby boss Alan Gilpin was asked about the desire for more recognisable 15s stars to come across to sevens. With Antoine Dupont considered one of the faces of the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris, and having helped France men to their first title on what is now the SVNS Series for 19 years, it’s a big talking point.

Indeed, it’s one Gilpin says has been at the forefront of the organisation’s thinking since it first looked like rugby would return to the Games, which it did in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

Back then, Sonny Bill Williams made it all the way to Rio, only for him to partially rupture his achilles at the get-go of the Games. Others, like Ryan Kankowski and Bryan Habana failed to make the cut for South Africa.

The Olympic sevens challenge

“It’s hard, right?” start Gilpin, matter-of-factly about the proposition of transitioning. “The Dupont impact is incredible, to win the first title for France in sevens in 19 years. He is a freak! And then Hoops (Hooper) is trying to at a different stage in his career.

“I think it’s important for us because in those individual countries – and for the series – it’s provided a profile that we need to keep building. We’ve made it harder in the men’s game, particularly because of the way the calendars are. The SVNS Series is seven months long. So it’s a big commitment for players, and those two guys have managed to make it.”

With so many women’s players crossing codes to play for their country, replication is a discussion. However, that approach for some womens’ programmes has not gone without criticism, with some questioning why the Olympic sport is perceived to be more valuable.

Related: Modern sevens tactics explained – what to look out for at the Olympic Games

Gilpin gives the example of the impact Australia women winning gold in Rio had for their sport, with them held up as a inspiration for a younger generation.

Hailing stars who began in sevens

But that man Habana has made a point of saying that the athletes already in sevens deserve some more profile, while also pointing out that 15s World Cup-winning stars like Cheslin Kolbe, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Kwagga Smith have deep sevens experience.

Olympic sevens

Kurt-Lee Arendse at the Tokyo Games (Getty Images)

As Gilpin adds: “I think as important as as the profile that brings, we’re really passionate about the fact that all of these sevens players should be superstars because we’ve got some of the best athletes in any sport in the world playing this version of the game. We’ve got to find a way (to promote them) and the Olympics will be a great platform in Paris this year to really shine a light.”

Helping Olympic sevens coverage

Pressed on the role World Rugby have to play to add marketing power to what the Olympics will do, from outside it, Gilpin tells Rugby World: “Rugby Sevens having a great Olympics is absolutely part of the plan. So we will go back to Paris based on on some of the things we did last year (at the men’s Rugby World Cup) and really try and blow up the coverage.

“I think what we’ll see in Paris will be so good for rugby sevens, and that’s the sort of opportunity that comes back in season two of of the SVNS Series when we get the chance to really springboard from Paris. That’s why we’re so excited about this year for sevens – we’ve put a lot of effort, a lot of investment into the series to build up to Paris.

“Paris is going to be an amazing moment in time when fans who’ve probably not seen rugby sevens, you’re gonna see a lot of it. How do we get hold of them and show them the rest of our sport.”

Rugby World has learnt of a documentary series worked on around the SVNS that has not been optioned by a major streamer.

However, when asked if some of the footage captured can help ‘blow up’ the Olympics sevens, Gilpin replied: “We’ve got some good behind the scenes stuff in the can.”

Sevens will be played at the Stade de France for the Olympics, with the action taking place from 24 to 30 July. But will Olympic sevens expose a new swathe of fans to the superstars of the game?

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