#LDN9s: The largest Rugby 9s Festival In Europe!
What is LDN9s? Picture this; plentiful ice cold beer, great quality mouth watering festival food, a line up of DJs playing day and night and some cheerleaders accompanied with 'surprise games' to keep everyone entertained during the day! There is no surprise teams from all over the World are signing up to attend what is set up to be the largest Rugby 9s tournament in Europe, and the 21st July 2018 couldn't come any sooner! I had an exciting catch up with the brains behind the event Graham Oliphant to discuss the event in a little bit more detail!
1. What is LONDON 9s all about?
"The London9s will be the largest Rugby9s Festival in Europe.
It is an attempt to reinvigorate and showcase the short-form of Rugby League, something I feel the Sport is woeful in adopting or promoting- certainly in the northern Hemisphere.
There will be Mens and Women’s teams, as well as a Tag Tournament and a Masters game. All playing to a RL9s version of Rules. It is principally aimed at an adult market of sports and festival lovers. And, yes, Rugby Union sides have been invited as well. I’d like to think the London9s is MUCH MORE than just a rugby tournament, than the standard Rugby+beers+Bbq with some music and camping. Nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to see if I could think bigger and bolder…..
I’ve played and and been to many festivals and some have been fun, but to be honest I felt many were pretty dour and uninspiring. Granted the rugby may have been gritty, but as an experience, as a product of entertainment to a neutral fan, did they go far enough?
I wanted to create something special. Something memorable. Something that brought together the best elements of 'Rugby Tournament’ with the excitement of a 'Festival atmosphere’.
"I guess, having now moved to the U.S. some of my experiences there have rubbed off and I wanted to bring some of that ‘razzmatazz’ into a RL style format.
You’ll also notice from the Promo-video that there is a big emphasis on London itself. This is deliberate attempt to market London as a desirable destination- trying to convey a sense of ’sports tourism’ which I feel has been under utilised as a marketing concept by Rugby sides in the Capital".
2. How did you get involved in Rugby 9s?
"1996 Bath v Wigan: The clash of the codes. But, more recently I started working August 2017 on the 2018 LDN9s. I remember watching, mesmerised, in ’96, in my last year at Uni, thinking how amazing- how different. The endless debate from both Codes and back seat fans about who would win and why - who was ‘the best’. The big characters of the era- Edwards, Farrell and Offiah…. and been surprised by how well Phil De Glanville got stuck in and was a stand out player for Bath!
"The halcyon days of cross-code match ups- when Wigan in their heyday also won the ’96 Middlesex 7s and then Bradford shaking the establishment by winning, in style, in 2002 and then the 2003 Saints v Sale match up. Inspired by these I could never really understand why Nines wasn’t adopted in a more structured way in the UK and why we suddenly stopped having cross-code match ups.
Lionel and Co had a great run with the Carnegie Floodlit Nines and I cut my teeth with Skolars back in 2003 as their Operations Manager when they first turned semi-pro, organising the Middllesex 9s which proved very popular.
There have been others, notably the Brighton9s. I’m sure i’ve missed more, but maybe that’s the point. They tend to be, on the whole, local initiatives, that once the primary person or motivation wanes, so the dream fizzles out with them. It’s hard work; believe me- everyone who has had to chase players for subs will tell you!
Now imagine trying to convince 36 teams to all come along to something new and part with their hard earned money, largely based on a vision you are trying to get them to buy in to. I’ve had a few sleepless nights and thanks to a receding hairline I have been saved on occasions from pulling my own hair out!
I should also state that the #LDN9s is an independently run and independently funded festival, open to anyone who wishes to enter. So people may think I’m talking a good game, but I’m putting my own money and a few hundred hours of toil into this and i’m determined to make it work. I hope its a journey others will feel inspired to join. This is not funded by any recognised RL Governing Body.
Essentially, I wanted to open up ‘Nines' to the wider Rugby audience and invite both Rugby League and Rugby Union sides. Provoke that debate again, tongue in cheek, about which code is better? Can League sides beat Union 7s specialists at in a RL version of the short form game?
Yes, all teams will be playing to the version of Rugby league Nines that I have devised, to suit the running times of the tournament- fast action 12 minute games with no half time. 6 pitches in action. 100 games in one day! Bosch!
3. You have attracted teams from all over the World, talk us through some of the teams who have already booked in.
"What I would say though before that, is that some of the hard graft has been done by Ken Edwards and Keiran O’shea, who I met with back in September 2017 and we discussed the issue of a lack of Match officials and how this could potentially scupper any mass grouping of Rugby games that a one day festival would entail.You can have loads of fancy named teams but if you don’t have a ref, you don’t have a game.
Recognising this, and feeling somewhat frustrated by official channels, we set up the MOTA (Match Officials Training Academy), with guidance from Dan Steel at the RL Foundation and kindly hosted by Skolars at their clubhouse in North London we have proactively recruited, ‘press-ganged’ may be a better description, new recruits and taken them through a one day RFL endorsed Match Officials qualification. This is the start of their journey though and the 12 graduates so far are now working with the Refs society and Phill Browne at Try Tag Rugby, to gain experience and build their confidence. Our next MOTA is 11th Feb where the next batch of recruits will be encouraged and guided through the process. Not all, but some of these graduates will then go on to officiate at the LDN9s. I would also like to open up opportunities for MOTA graduates to referee at other Nines events in Europe, so we create and nurture own own pool of dedicated Nines Officials.
On the teams, yes, there is quite an exotic mix of mens and women teams, both Union and League, and the numbers are still growing. 16 Paid in full so far! Notably, we have a team from Australia, made up of two 9s teams, who are embracing on a 15,000km journey to play at the London9s. They are funding their own flights and taking time off work. That, right there. That, is passion.
A team from West Papua - the West Papua Warriors are travelling over, from the Southern Hemisphere, as well as the Fijian based side the ‘Fijian Warriors’. I am also still in discussion with teams in Canada, USA, Eastern Europe and South Africa, who all want to be there. At present, we have pre-booked hostel accommodation in London so teams coming from afar have reasonable priced beds".
"I am also working with a specialist Rugby Travel Tour Company who are working tirelessly to try and facilitate travel packages to suit team budgets to get them over. Naturally, these clubs have to consider huge costs and commitment of bringing a large group of 20 people over, funding visas, paying for accommodation. If we, as an event, can take some of the pain out of the logistics and offer a service that can alleviate that burden form the team organiser, I think that’s only right, when someone gives you their commitment to undertake such an endeavour.
These teams want to be there though- such is the strength of feeling for the tournament and willingness to be involved.
There has been a lot of interest from Tier 2 and Tier 3 Nations, however funding has been a big issue, unless Sponsors can be found. There is also the Emerging Nations at the end of the Summer which impacts some clubs and national sides. From the UK too, we’ve had a flurry of teams book in- the RAF RL were the first team, back in October to confirm, Cardiff Demons, Bath RL, Coventry RL, Brixton RL and it was great to see stalwarts of the Nines Wests Warriors confirm a team. With the Early Bird rate set to close at the end of Feb, more teams are galvanising into action so they don't miss out on the July event. Cas Tigers Ladies- the strong winners of the Brighton9s in 2017 and Yorkshire County Cup winners will be there, along with the Ironsides Ladies RU Club who have a large following.
The RFL have kindly made the date of the London9s a clear weekend in the women's league, so we anticipate more women teams to now come forward now".
4. What makes London 9s different to regular rugby?
" As Union has 7s, and more so 10s now- mainly for the vets, although the recent Brisbane 10s product looks extremely exciting, so League has 9s as its short form game. Nines has an extra 4 players on the field, so there is slightly less space than 7s, where one speedster, once in possession can easily find space. Like 7s the play is largely continuos, the emphasis being on scoring tries, so the audience are invariably treated to a feast of fast-action skilful Rugby. Let’s be clear- 9s is not replacing 13s. In the same way that World Rugby do not expect 7s to replace the main product 15-a-side.
But let’s consider the huge success of 7s as a brand, and admire how it has blossomed. Short form adaptations are occurring and have done so across a number of sports, with great success. Largely driven by Broadcasters craving wholesome packages of content that can be easily digested by an action hungry audience with 140 character attention spans. The format also becomes intoxicating, if it is packaged, promoted and delivered intelligently.
Imagine Cricket if 20/20 had never happened?
Try Googling 7s Tournaments and there are literally hundreds across the UK and Europe and in the U.S it is massively popular in High School and College as a feeder to the Sport of Rugby Union.
Now try Googling 9s tournaments…...
Even AFL and Golf are now looking at short form incarnations. They realise they need to adapt and get with the times. Sports Tourism is becoming so popular now, so is Live Steaming and an appetite for something different, something more exciting. Nines could be Rugby League’s trump card to reinvigorate and market the sport, to a new audience".
5. What's the long term goal of London 9s?
"That's a good question. Use this as a launch pad to connect other 9’s tournaments across the Northern Hemisphere I’m already doing some groundwork for #LDN9s 2019, and we have a number of teams that could not make 2018, mark their names down as interested parties.
Long term, the plan is to forge ahead with connecting up the existing Nines tournaments in the UK and Europe. I am not a megalomaniac. I have no intention of running them all- I certainly wouldn’t have any hair left!
Each host Club/City/Organisation has its own autonomy and runs the tournament. What I am suggesting is that we all just have a little more joined up thinking- communicate- have a central website where dates and details are on one accessible site. If nothing else so that fans and teams can forward plan and book in advance.
Consider the rules that we want to use and the format of play. Have some parity on entry costs and the ‘package' offered
Also, what i feel is very important, is to have context around the event. Some Countries have Beer Festivals that events could be aligned with, as a draw for ‘sports tourism’. Budapest has a gem- a traditional Hungarian Goulash meal and a centuries old ‘Hungarian’ Baths. Build an ‘experience’ around the event. Some of these City destinations are already popular with Stag and Hen trips. I have a Rugby Travel Company eager to help us.
My vision is to have a UK/European Circuit:
- A one day Nines tournament every 3-4weeks over a 9 month period
- These will range form 6 teams to 36 teams at different venues, largely dictated by suitable pitch availability
If the events are not clashing, then why can’t we support each others tournaments, and reciprocate. Teams at the start of the year can select which events they want to attend, as per their League fixtures etc.
This, then becomes a much more attractive prospect to a potential sponsor, and a great opportunity for live Streaming, which then in turn has great benefits for Tier 2 and Tier 3 Nations to raise their profile.
To me this has clear benefits for all concerned- Teams can reciprocate between destinations and tournaments, and fans can organise Rugby weekenders to festivals in new, exciting European cities".
Sign up for #LDN9s NOW!