After a 92-year absence, rugby came back to the Olympic Games with a bang in Rio.
A new format and a new platform brought a new audience to the game and one of Team GB’s silver medal-winning men’s sevens side has said the event will only go from strength to strength.
James Rodwell recovered from a dislocated knee in April, to make history in August as Team GB won silver in the first ever rugby sevens competition at an Olympic Games.
Rugby last appeared at the Olympics Games in 1924, when the USA beat hosts France, in Paris.
But after 92 years away from the Olympic spotlight, rugby returned in Rio as the truncated sevens format was introduced and proved to be a hit in Brazil.
And as Team GB’s silver medal added to their two already won in 1900 and 1908, Rodwell believes the exposure gained by the 2016 Olympic platform can only help to grow the game.
It’s massive for the game to get that global exposure and hopefully we are going to see it continue to grow over the next few years
“It’s massive for the game,” said the 32-year-old, speaking at the Crabbie’s National Rugby Awards.
“The Olympics Games is global exposure, the amount of people who watch it and aren’t necessarily interested in sport, or who have never watched rugby before, they flick on the channel and they see rugby and think ‘let’s give it a watch’ and see how exciting and fast-paced it is and exhilarating to watch.
“It’s so easy to understand, with less people on the pitch than the 15-a-side game. It’s usually fast-paced and a lot of tries are scored.
“It’s easy to understand, easy to pick up, games are only short – 14 minutes long – so you don’t have to concentrate for too long.
“It’s massive for the game to get that global exposure and hopefully we are going to see it continue to grow over the next few years.”
Team GB were beaten by Fiji in the final as the Pacific Island nation won their first ever Olympic medal, and Rodwell said that showed rugby sevens’ ability to bring new countries into the Olympic fold.
“Sevens is the ultimate in terms of how many teams could have won that tournament,” added the former Moseley man.
“You’re looking at maybe nine or ten teams that could have won gold, it was so competitive. All through the group stages you saw some upsets, with Japan beating New Zealand and then going on to finish in fourth.
“That was incredible for them and with the Olympic Games in Tokyo the next time around then it’s great for the sport.
“Sevens is probably a little unusual in that there are teams in there that you wouldn’t expect to see, with the likes of Fiji winning gold and Kenya doing well.
“I don’t know if it’s easier to pick up because there are less numbers on the pitch, and you don’t need as many resources as with 15, but it gives an opportunity for more people to be involved in the game.”
Rodwell gets back into training for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in just a couple of weeks, but during his time off he has been able to reflect on his experience in Rio and how it can have a positive impact on the game in Great Britain.
“Rio was such an amazing experience, both on and off the field,” he added.
“Getting to spend time with other athletes, to know how they train, and for them to take an interest in rugby as well, was fantastic.
“And to come away with a silver medal was pretty good as well.
“Grass roots level rugby is so important in this country. It’s where everyone starts off playing.
“Speaking to people at the National Rugby Awards just makes you realise how many more people have signed up to clubs, so if we’ve done that by playing in an Olympic Games it’s amazing for the game itself.”