Brian O’Driscoll believes Olympics fever can eventually catapult Rugby Sevens onto a par with the 15-man game.
Former Ireland and British and Irish Lions captain O’Driscoll has tipped Sevens to one day sit alongside rugby’s traditional format, and on an equal footing to boot.
Sevens will make its Olympic debut in the summer’s Rio Games, and a new report highlighting rugby’s future predicts rapid growth for the sport’s short format incarnation in the next 10 years.
“With the market and the eyes that will see Sevens for the first time because of the Olympics, the sport has the potential for exponential growth,” O’Driscoll told Press Association Sport.
“Sevens should grow into new areas, places in Asia like China, to grow far more in the United States as well.
“It can grow alongside the 15s game, I don’t think it will replace it, but I definitely think it has the scope to be as big as the 15s game is currently.”
Global governing body World Rugby rates rugby union’s current worldwide participation figures at 7.2 million and that figure is projected to rise to 15 million by 2026.
Women are also expected to account for 40 per cent of the world’s active rugby players in 10 years’ time.
The coaching mastermind of England’s 2003 World Cup triumph Sir Clive Woodward has branded Sevens as rugby’s “sleeping giant” in the report, while former dual-code star Jason Robinson predicted rugby league players may in future convert specifically to Sevens as opposed to simply rugby union.
O’Driscoll won 141 Test caps across 15 years with Ireland and the British and Irish Lions, but despite his numerous accolades he now admits pangs of jealousy seeing current top stars chasing the Olympic dream.
The report claims Sevens could even boast franchise-based short tournaments in 10 years, creating rugby’s answer to cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL) or Australia’s Big Bash.
O’Driscoll believes Sevens must still prove its global appeal in Rio before realising such lofty aims, but admitted to excitement at the notion of a fast-growing discipline that could offer rugby an equivalent to cricket’s increasingly popular Twenty20 concept.
“I’m not a cricket connoisseur by any stretch but it’s hard not to like Twenty20, it’s exciting and fast,” said O’Driscoll.
“It’s exactly what Sevens rugby is delivering – it’s fast, it’s exciting and it creates a huge party atmosphere.
“I think there’s definitely potential for that. We have to get by the first Olympics first though.
“I’m very excited about seeing rugby in the Olympics, but we have to just allow it to evolve afterwards.”