International Rugby Board chairman Bernard Lapasset doesn't often get beaten.

He's twice won election to the IRB's top role and defended his position against England's Bill Beaumont in 2011. He was integral to France winning the right to stage the Rugby World Cup in 2007 and oversaw the campaign which took sevens onto the Olympic Games programme.

But all that success didn't stop the Frenchman having his derriere kicked in Russia at the end of May, when he came second by a distance in a two horse race for the Presidency of SportAccord.

Of what?

For those with better things to do than study the minutiae of sports politics, SportAccord is an umbrella for more than 100 different international sports federations ranging from giants like FIFA and the International Association of Amateur Athletics Federations (IAAF) to air sports and casting. That's as in fishing not couches...

SportAccord embraces all Olympic sports and a whole bunch of others including dragon boat racing (IDBF), boules (CMWSB), pelota (FIPV) flying disc (WDFD), fistball (IFA) and floorball (IFF). It runs various meetings, organises multi-sport events for mind sports and combat sports and holds an annual convention, which this year was in St Petersburg and was the location for where Bernard met his match.

His opponent for leadership of this collection of all the acronyms under the sun was Marius Vizer (pronounced 'visa'), the Romanian born head of the International Judo Federation whose radical agenda focused on major change and the promise of major money.

Vizer wants SportAccord member federations – which include rugby – to take part in a four-yearly United World Championships, which would effectively be a head-on challenge to the Olympic Games.

He says he can get media and sponsorship backing for his plan and that the money would be distributed directly to the international federations rather than through the National Olympic Committees which handle the taking from the Olympic Games and then pass it down the line.

In short, a vote for Vizer was a vote for more money and 52 federation representatives bought the idea, with only 37 going for Lapasset's soft sell.

Now it appears that the wider world of sport is waking up to the realities of what one expert described as 'promise based on a non-existent pot of gold at the end of a non-existent rainbow'.

"If the International Olympic Committee - with all of its sponsorship and TV money - struggles to organise the Olympic Games, what chance is there of running something three times the size with zero interest from broadcasters or sponsors," he said.

The fear is that Vizer's scheme could divide the world of sport ruinously and it will be fascinating to hear what the defeated presidential candidate will say when he is ultimately approached about rugby's participation in the United Championships. In an already crowded - some would say overcrowded – global calendar, it would seem to be little more than fantasy.

 

By Kevin Roberts

Editorial director, SportBusiness International

One of rugby's great rivalries will be on display again this Sunday, as Wales take on England in the IRB Junior World Championship final, the first all northern hemisphere final in the competitions history.
Wales overcame defending champions South Africa in a thrilling contest, while four-time winners New Zealand were defeated by a strong England side at the Stade de la Rabine in Vannes, and will now go into the final as favourites.

Wales were the more dramatic winners after wing Ashley Evans ran onto a perfectly weighted kick from Sam Davies to touch down in the corner, the fly half holding his nerve to slot the conversion from near the touchline to secure the 18-17 win and end South Africa's bid to defend the title they won on home soil in 2012.

England then created their own piece of history by beating New Zealand for the first time at age grade level, starting brightly to deserved lead 23-8 before the Baby Blacks came roaring, only to come up short and fail to reach the final for the first time in Junior World Championship history after losing 33-21.

Many pundits had given Wales little chance of beating the South Africans, with their bigger forward pack and back three who have impressed throughout the tournament, but the Welsh had other ideas and gradually found their feet after a nervous start to the first semi-final.

"We are over the moon, we have made history in our country, and we move on to the final and look for another big win there. It is huge, we had a lot of talk about making history, getting to that semi, and then progressing on as we have done today. No other Welsh team at Under 20 level has done that and we are really proud of ourselves," said Davies.

They will now face a repeat of the Under 20 Six Nations title decider from earlier this year when England denied Wales the Grand Slam with a 28-15 win in Colwyn Bay, this time for the biggest title that age grade rugby has to offer.

England's win was wrapped up long before the final whistle thanks to their impressive start, Henry Slade kicking them into a fifth minute lead with the first of what would be seven perfect kicks on the day from the fly half.

"It's unbelievable – having not done well last year, we spoke to the new boys coming up and said we've really got to go for it this year. To beat New Zealand on its own is amazing. Never come up against them, I thought they may have sneaked it at the end. But, to get into a final of a JWC in my last year is amazing," insisted England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie.

For full match reports on both these semi-finals, as well as all the other latest games from the IRB Junior World Championships 2013, please click here.

RaboDirect Pro 12 regional side Ospreys have announced the renewal of its long-standing partnership with Worthington's, the second oldest brewing company in the UK and part of the worldwide Molson Coors Group.

Worthington's has been a commercial partner of the region since its inception in 2003 and has featured on the shirt since the 2006/07 season.

The new three-year deal will see the Worthington's logo remaining in the highly sought after slot across the shoulders of the famous Ospreys jersey until the summer of 2016, extending the relationship to 13 years.

The global brewing company also supports the Worthington's 2003 Club, a dedicated area in the West Stand for Ospreys season members that operates pre and post match at every home game throughout the season.

Commenting on the extension of the partnership with the Ospreys, Molson Coors Regional Director, Diane Rees, said:

"We are absolutely delighted to renew for a further three years our very successful partnership with the Ospreys. We have been with the region as friends, partners and supporters since their very inception.

"Through our new three year deal we show again our further commitment to regional rugby and of course, via the Worthington's Bitter brand, we are proud to remain firmly on the shoulder of the Ospreys shirt, a major part of the ever growing Ospreys family. A pint of Worthington's and a game of rugby are synonymous with each other. Ospreys supporters are our customers, could there be a better synergy? We wish them every continued success."

Yarnie Guthrie, Commercial Manager at the Ospreys, added:

"I'm thrilled to be able to confirm the extension of this successful partnership on behalf of Ospreys Rugby. We value our association with Worthington's very highly and with their historic investment into the game in Wales at all levels and being the official supplier of Liberty Stadium, it is a relationship that makes sense for both parties.

"The Worthington's logo is instantly identifiable and occupies a slot on our jersey that is immensely valuable; an independent report from London-based media specialist Repucom highlighted that the TV media value of that position alone is worth in excess of £257,000 per year to Worthington's.

"Of course, our relationship with Worthington's is about more than just that. As a community focussed business with strong roots in the rugby clubs across Ospreylia we share many of the same core values and we look forward to continuing working closely with them over the next three years."

By Ross Young

Having been lucky enough to attend and participate in the Global Rugby Forum (www.globalrugbyforum.com) earlier on this month in Philadelphia, there was one thing that really stood out; the conference, which was a great success,  covered a wide range of topics, but during almost every session the discussions tended to loop back to the sport's hot topic, Sevens.

With the game now an Olympic sport and recent confirmation from the IRB that RWC Sevens is here to stay, many are anticipating an exciting future for Sevens, but what impact will this have on the traditional game?

Rugby Sevens has of course been around for a long time, with its source in Melrose in the Scottish Borders where the first ever Sevens tournament was played in 1883.. For many years it was never really played at international level, with the exception of the annual Hong Kong event which was launched in March 1976, a landmark for the sport as one of the first rugby tournaments to attract commercial sponsorship. Rugby sevens has always hugely popular at club level as an end of season 'jamboree', a great example in the Middlesex Sevens which was played in front of large crowds at Twickenham for years. The abbreviated version of the game has always been at the heart of Pacific Island rugby, with Fiji, in particular, regular winners in Hong Kong.

After the game went professional, there was a danger that Sevens may well disappear altogether, as all resources and playing talent were channeled into the traditional XVs game. In an inspired move by the International Rugby Board, the World Sevens Series was set up in 2000, as a fantastic vehicle to promote the game and have non-traditional countries competing alongside - and, hopefully challenging  -tier one unions. It struggled for the first few years but the stronghold events in Hong Kong, Dubai and Wellington provided a great platform for growth; You only need to look at the success of this year's Las Vegas Sevens, combined with over 100,000 people at Twickenham for the second year in succession, to see that the Series is here to stay.

Rugby World Cup has raised the bar for the sport and is widely acknowledged as the third biggest global sporting event, but the criticism is that until there is mass participation in countries like USA, China and Russia it will never be truly global.

There is undoubtedly a huge opportunity for Sevens to become the catalyst that will drive participation amongst the sporting superpowers. With this year's Rugby World Cup Sevens taking place in Moscow at the end of June, the nation has been educati, with rugby a part of the national school curriculum in Russia for the last few years.

Across the pond, the Collegiate Rugby Championship is now the highest profile college rugby competition in the US, with the Sevens tournament broadcast on NBC, attracting over 5m viewers when it took place last week, NBC/Universal also pull impressive figures from the Las Vegas Sevens and are crying out for more quality rugby content.

China are also implementing a high performance program prior to the Asian Games and then Rio 2016.

The sleeping giants are finally waking up and Sevens has been the alarm clock; the long form of the game needs to make sure that it can take advantage of the increase in profile of the sport via the growing popularity of Sevens, or it may well end up as the poor relation.

 

About the author

Ross Young has worked in rugby since 1998 when he was appointed general manager of Harlequins. Ross then joined the IRB in 2002 as Rugby World Cup general manager, responsible for the delivery of RWC's in 2003, 2007 and 2011.

BT Sport will broadcast the World Club 7s live from Twickenham Stadium this summer, Premiership Rugby has confirmed.

Taking place on 17-18 August, the World Club 7s brings together some of the biggest names in club and provincial rugby, together with some of the rising stars in the 7s game.

"We are delighted that BT Sport are showing the World Club 7s live. It's an indication of the pace the tournament is gathering pace on a daily basis!" said Dominic Hayes, the Commercial Director at Premiership Rugby.

"BT Sport will broadcast three hours live on Saturday followed by five and a half hours on Sunday starting with ACT Brumbies against Auckland, as the competition reaches a crescendo."

Simon Green, Head of BT Sport, said: "BT Sport is the new home of rugby union and we are delighted to be showing world class 7s to kick off our rugby coverage. Rugby union is entering a thrilling phase and we will be bringing the very best of the action to our viewers."

Premiership Rugby has already announced BT Sport as the new home to the Aviva Premiership, showing up to 69 live matches a season from the start of 2013/14. The channel will also broadcast exclusive live coverage of the J.P. Morgan Premiership Rugby 7s Series, the winner of which will take the coveted 12th spot in the World Club 7s tournament.

The tournament is set to expand further in 2014 and 2015 as 7s Rugby heads towards its debut at the Olympics in 2016 and will include the strongest club and provincial teams in the world qualifying through domestic 7s championships.

 

BBC Sport and Scottish Rugby have agreed a two-year extension to the current broadcast deal of exclusive live rights to Scotland's autumn international matches on TV, radio and online, an agreement announced on the BBC website.

There was already a deal in place for the BBC to broadcast Scotland's games this autumn, against Japan (November 9th on BBC Scotland and via the red button), South Africa (November 17th on BBC One) and Australia (November 23rd on BBC Two), and the new agreement will cover the autumn internationals in 2014 and 2016.

Scottish Rugby's Chief Executive, Mark Dodson, welcomed today's announcement. He said: "Our broadcast partnerships are important to Scottish Rugby and I am delighted that the BBC will continue to be on board with us during our autumn tests through until 2016.

"Their coverage enables us to showcase Scotland international matches at Murrayfield to a wide audience throughout the UK and is appreciated by supporters."

Barbara Slater, Director BBC Sport, said: "We're very pleased to be continuing our valued relationship with Scottish Rugby. The autumn international matches are an important part of our rugby union output and are very popular with audiences across BBC TV, radio and online. These are big internationals against some of the most powerful rugby nations and so a crucial part of the season, ahead of the Six Nations which is always hugely anticipated by fans across the UK."

When Saracens moved in to their new Allianz Park stadium for the final games of the 2012/13 Aviva Premiership season, natural scepticism engulfed the European rugby community that the men in black would now be playing their home matches on synthetic turf. Fast forward four months and it now appears that there is a growing clamour for this to become the norm around English rugby.


The project cost Saracens £500,000 and one suspects that other clubs and countries were happy to sit back and let the North London based club take the plunge and form a reactive plan instead of the proactive members of the Saracens hierarchy. English club sides are of course not as wealthy as their counterparts across the Channel; so naturally the aforementioned figure was bound to raise a few eyebrows.


The benefits are there for all to see however, and with other semi-professional clubs around the country having already spent vast sums of money on such surfaces, others may look to follow suit. The Welsh Rugby Union is already looking into the possibly of such an investment for the Millennium Stadium, where there have been longstanding issues with the turf since the ground's opening in 1999, attracting criticism from some of Wales' rugby and football stars alike.


It is fair to say that the hefty upfront payment stipulated for any such project will determine which clubs – at any level – will be able to benefit from the introduction of synthetic turf surfaces, but these benefits are there for everyone to see. Synthetic turf pitches require minimal maintenance in comparison to natural turf and they will often have a longer lifespan, even with greater usage. Additional revenue streams are created as the pitch becomes dual purpose, used by local community and other stakeholders during the summer months, without the risk of impacting on the recovery time which would be required for any natural grass surface. English weather is also never something that can be relied upon and synthetic surfaces will allow teams to train and play in much more severe weather conditions.

There is also the case to answer that the Southern hemisphere's Super 15 is played at a much quicker pace, with far more attacking impetus, thus creating national sides that the Northern hemisphere simply cannot deal with on the international stage. One idea, regularly banded about, is to scrap relegation and promotion, consequently creating a less pressurised and finance-driven environment which would induce a more free-flowing style of rugby. The other is simply the pitches that British sides play on; harder, quicker pitches naturally encourage a quicker game at the breakdown and hence more of a running game occurs and a greater number of try-scoring opportunities are created.

There are of course some detractors who question the purity of the sport should it be switched to synthetic surfaces and that rugby should always be played on good old grass. We've all been unfortunate enough to experience those wet days where an out-of-hand kicking duel takes place and scrums take five minutes apiece to get going, is that really what spectators or players want? When weather conditions can play such a huge part in a rugby match, then why let it be a factor? Hats off to Saracens for trailblazing the way forward in the professional game, it will prove money well spent and long may others follow their courageous example.

 

By Gareth Beddoes

Following months of speculation, the IRB has announced that the Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament will be retained and integrated into the Olympic Games cycle.

The decision, which followed consultation with member unions and major stakeholders, was made to achieve what the IRB has described as a 'key high performance pathway for teams around the world', in support of the sport's inclusion in the Olympic Games from 2016.

Following this month's RWC Sevens in Moscow, the next tournament will take place in 2018, two years before the 2020 Olympics.

IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: "RWC Sevens provides an opportunity for a large number of nations to compete at a high level. Like all Olympic sports, we believe that a world championship event will increase competitiveness, interest and participation, slotting into the multi-sport Games cycle and enhancing Rugby Sevens in the Olympic Games and the sport as a whole."

"Moscow 2013 is a reflection of the truly global reach of our sport and the event is on track to be a wonderful success. With unprecedented interest in hosting Rugby Sevens events, spurred on by inclusion in the Olympic Games, I am sure we can anticipate a keenly contested tender process for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018."

Howard Thomas, deputy managing director of the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013, Russia and Rugby247 columnist recently shared his thoughts on the possibility of losing the much-loved tournament. Click here to read his article.

USA Rugby has confirmed its intentions to bid for the right to host the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens.

The USA Rugby Board has appointed Board Director Will Chang as Chairman of their bid. Chang, an international businessman, sports enthusiast and part owner of the San Francisco Giants baseball team, will visit Moscow later this month to study the Russian capital's hosting of the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens.

The announcement follows yesterday's confirmation from the IRB that Rugby World Cup Sevens will be retained, after fears the tournament would be scrapped in the wake of Sevens achieving Olympic status. Following RWC Sevens 2013, the next tournament will take place in five years, a change to the traditional four year gap, to integrate it into the Olympic cycle.

"I'm excited for the opportunity to head the bid committee and potentially bring the Rugby World Cup Sevens to America," Chang said. "Hosting this tournament will support our goals of developing the Game and further its popularity in the United States. We are looking forward to hearing more about the bid process and will do everything we can to ensure the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens will take place on United States soil."

USA Rugby hopes to capitalize on the IRB's goals of showcasing the Game to a global audience and drive interest and participation in key rugby development markets like the United States.

"Rugby is now one of the fastest growing sports in America," USA Rugby Chief Executive Officer and President of Rugby Operations Nigel Melville said. "We want to continue our growth, showcase the new Olympic sport of Rugby Sevens and take the sport to unprecedented levels in the USA."

It is fair to say that Scottish rugby has certainly seen brighter days, with the enterprising back play from the likes of Gavin Hastings and Gregor Townsend and others a thing of the past. However, after a decent showing in this year's Six Nations, there are signs that the tide could perhaps be slowly turning for the boys in blue. Add to the mix their recent acquisition of Clermont coach Vern Cotter, a real coup given his reputation and the fact his club side are arguably seen as the best in the Northern hemisphere, then all should be pointing to solid progression towards the 2015 World Cup. Think it all seems a little too rosy? You'd be right. Cotter will only be joining the Scots after the 2013/14 domestic season due to Clermont's adamant stance not to release him from his contract early, leaving Scott Johnson in temporary charge until then. Interim coaches... A recipe for disaster?

There is definitely a strong case for the fact that Scotland could simply not afford to miss out on their man, who many club and international sides would take in an instant. Clermont team manager and former Borders player Neil Mcllroy is confident Scotland will benefit in the long run. "I think it's a shrewd choice, a wise choice. If you want the best person, sometimes you have to be flexible and wait." This seems exactly the philosophy that the Scottish Rugby Board has taken and whether they are made to wait the full length of Cotter's contract remains to be seen.

There is no denying Cotter's credentials, but where exactly does this leave Scott Johnson? While he is all set to step in to the Director of Rugby hot seat when Cotter arrives, would the situation change at all if he were to lead Scotland on a string of victories? Johnson is certainly saying all the right things presently and is thought to be highly respected in the Scottish camp but one can't help but feel that with temporary stints in charge of both Wales and now Scotland and a brief spell in charge of the USA he may feel he has unfinished business as an international head coach.

Wales, of course, adopted the role of interim coach recently when Rob Howley led the team in Warren Gatland's Lions and injury-induced absence; providing an example of how badly events can unfold. They went from Grand Slam champions and the toast of the Northern Hemisphere, to perennial nearly men Down Under to a laughing stock during the Autumn Internationals. It undoubtedly was a sombre period for Welsh rugby interjected between the euphoria of Six Nations triumphs and at a time when, as the Lions squad proves, they certainly had the players at their disposal. If Scotland's recent defeat to Samoa and their subsequent slide outside the world's top 10 is anything to go by then it could well be a long and challenging year ahead.

With the 2015 World Cup in the not too distant future, surely this halts possible Scottish progress, with players and coaches in the current setup merely looking to the future and Cotter's arrival. The modern obsession is for 'teams to build for four years' leading up to a World Cup.

With the present arrangement, Cotter will have just over a year to create and mould a team to his liking for the tournament. Surely more time is needed to help a Scottish side who have been largely uncompetitive on the major stage for more than a decade. Whatever happens in due course, Scottish rugby will be an interesting place to be and well worth keeping an eye on in the lead up to the 2015 World Cup.

By Gareth Beddoes