As the nation gears up to watch the first round of fixtures in the Six Nations this weekend, on the other side of the world two England rugby teams will be preparing for a tournament of their own...

The Sydney Sevens, the fourth tournament in the Men’s World Series and fifth in the Women’s begins at 22:30 GMT this Friday and offers both English teams a chance to build on a promising start to the Series. The men currently lie fourth in the World Standings on 39 points having reached the semi-finals in Hamilton last week – leaving them comfortably ahead of pre-tournament favourites and reigning World and Olympic champions Fiji, who are languishing in seventh after a shaky start to the series. However, this still leaves them well below the runaway leaders New Zealand -fifteen points ahead of second place and accumulating 63 points having won two of the three opening rounds.

England Women meanwhile sit seventh in the standings, improving on a poor start which saw them fail to reach the quarter-finals in both Glendale and Dubai to come sixth in Hamilton and remain within touching distance of opponents Russia in the battle for sixth place overall.

So why should you watch Rugby Sevens? It regularly produces drama that the traditional Union matches lack. Bar Japan’s two victories over Ireland and Scotland, there were very few upsets at the Rugby World Cup last autumn, with the wealth disparity between Tier 1 and Tier 2 nations growing exponentially each year and rendering the majority of matches uncompetitive and foregone conclusions. On the other hand, in Rugby Sevens Fiji, a country with a population of less than 800,000 and a GDP of just 5.061 billion USD, can comfortably compete with and even beat the Union behemoths of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Similarly, with shorter, more competitive matches and less of a quality gap between teams, upsets are assured. Samoa beat the odds in Dubai to finish fourth whilst Canada, a country known more for curling than rugby, vanquished the mighty USA (runners up in the overall series last year) to come fifth in Hamilton.

Additionally, the Sevens circuit has become a space where the future stars of the Union game learn their trade. France centre Virimi Vakatawa, Fijian lock Leone Nakarawa and South African winger and World Cup winner Cheslin Kolbe are all graduates of the World Sevens Series and all three could currently make a claim to be the world’s best in their respective positions. Speed of mind and ball control are essential to be a successful Sevens player, and those that can combine this with the physical prowess required for Rugby Union result in formidable players.

Finally, unlike Rugby Union, Rugby Sevens has very few scrums, penalties are run rather than kicked into touch and conversions are drop-kicks. This results in a frenetic, unrelentless pace to the game that the stoppages in the Union game cannot hope to match - facilitating free-flowing high-scoring, high-energy rugby throughout the tournament. In last years’ Six Nations, an abnormally high average of 5.3 tries per match were scored in the first three rounds. In comparison, so far in this series New Zealand have averaged 4.35 tries per 14-minute game – highlighting how, if you want to see an exciting match, rugby sevens is your best bet.

Will Rugby Sevens ever eclipse Union as the primary format? In short, no. Traditionalists are destined to forever hold on to their ideals of arduous battles of attrition rather than of speed and skill. However, exposure amongst casual viewers caused by the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will undoubtedly increase the game’s popularity momentously and, by the time the next Six Nations rolls around, the likes of Jerry Tuwai, Dan Norton and Deborah Fleming may well have become household names.

Toby Saiban