ZIMBABWE sevens rugby team coach Graham Kaulback admits that World Rugby’s recent changes to the promotion and relegation criteria for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series will make it harder for teams aspiring to reach the pinnacle of the shorter format of the game.
The country’s Sevens side which is popularly known as the Cheetahs has for years been aiming to earn promotion to become a core team on the HSBC World Sevens Series.
After coming very close to making the big breakthrough in the past by pushing some of the emerging teams such as Japan, Spain, Kenya and Russia for the coveted ticket, lack of funding and proper structures have resulted in the Cheetahs falling behind the other nations.
And after the changes announced by the game’s global governing body World Rugby last week, Zimbabwe will have a lot more work to do in order to secure the promotion ticket to the World Rugby Sevens Series circuit.
The teams ranked ninth to 12th on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series after the opening six rounds will join the top-four ranked teams from the Challenger Series in a high-stakes relegation play-off competition which will see four teams secure their places in the next edition of the Series.
This means Zimbabwe will need to finish among the top four sides in next year’s expanded World Rugby Challenger Series, which will now provide a route for teams to qualify for the top-tier HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series circuit.
The Cheetahs finished eighth out of 12 participating nations at the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series at the Estadio Santa Laura Universidad in Santiago, Chile four months ago which leaves them with a lot of work to do to finish in the top four next season.
Kaulback, who recently completed his first year as the Cheetahs' head coach said while it will now be harder for his team to break through to the main circuit, the World Rugby Challenger Series would also be a good platform for his team to continue their development.
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“It’s obviously going to become more difficult to qualify for the World Series but I think World Rugby has plans to grow the Challenger Series into a prominent circuit,” Kaulback told StandardSport in an interview this week.
“The Challenger Series will now be even more challenging than it is already, which is great for us and hopefully we can get more exposure by playing more tournaments there.”
The former Cheetahs playmaker however said his team’s main target remains to secure core status on the World Series and qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
The Olympic Games qualifiers will be played next year at a venue yet to be confirmed by World Rugby.
“Obviously, we have high aspirations of qualifying for the main World Series and the Olympic Games. We will keep pushing to achieve those two main goals but even below that the Challenger Series will become a milestone in itself and the standard there will be very high,” he said.
Zimbabwe’s national rugby sevens side capped off the year on a promising note after edging French side ASM Clermont Auvergne 19-14 to claim the Shield title at the Dubai 7s Invitational in the United Arab Emirates last Saturday.
Although the Cheetahs did not get an invite to compete in the Dubai leg of the HSBC World Sevens Series, they competed in the invitational competition which features top European club sides and the development of teams of a number of countries who are core members on the circuit.
For Kaulback the invitational competition provided his players with an opportunity to test themselves against very strong opposition while also getting a first-hand appreciation of what they need to do in order to get to the highest level.
“The tour went extremely well, we are happy with how we went as the Cheetahs from a number of angles and the first angle being able to build depth and expose the Cheetahs to a really high-quality tournament and build their lessons which is pivotal for success in 7s,” he said.
“We managed to beat some good teams in Ireland Development, Japan Development as well as Clermont from the French Top 14. So those were good wins and obviously to get some silverware and win the shield was really good. I think it was a very valuable exercise and well worth it for the Cheetahs to go to the Dubai 7s Invitational as well as to play alongside the World Series and see the level of the World Series for those guys who haven’t seen the level where we are aspiring to be, what it looks like and what it takes to get there.”