England rugby chiefs insist they not scrapping their Sevens squad but admit they are in talks with Wales and Scotland in a bid to create a Great Britain team aimed at mounting a serious challenge for gold at future Olympic Games.
However, it is understood the Scots are lukewarm to the idea of giving up their own separate identity on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, particularly as they are the country that created the shortened version of the sport which made its Olympic debut in Rio.
England, Scotland and Wales are currently involved in the Sevens series with the top four teams automatically gaining places in the draw in next year’s Olympics in Japan and the other slots will be decided after qualifying tournaments.
Great Britain claimed silver in Rio after being beaten by Fiji in the final and Nigel Melville, the acting Rugby Football Union chief executive told RugbyPass any discussions over a GB team were at a early stage and did not signal the demise of the England Sevens squad.
The RFU is looking to cut costs of around £10m a year due to a predicted drop in future earnings forcing belt tightening. Last year 60 staff were made redundant by the sport’s biggest and richest Union and further cuts are in the pipeline.
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However, Melville said: “We are always looking for ways to make our teams more competitive and Team GB is one of the models we have been looking at but we are not about to axe the England Sevens squad. That is not what we have been talking about. Could we change the way we do Sevens? Absolutely. There are many different things we could do and if we went down the GB route we could put other teams into the European circuit.
“People are just jumping on one thing and saying that we are going to axe the Sevens team and that is clearly not the case. We have always been open to conversations with Wales and Scotland about the possibility of Team GB being on the Sevens circuit at some point to make us more competitive at the Olympics.”
The RFU spent £70million on the professional game last season but the majority is committed to legally binding agreements with the Premiership clubs and payments to England players. The RFU signed a £220million, eight-year deal with Premiership clubs in 2016. The RFU is forecast to lose more than £10million next year because of the costs of the World Cup in Japan and the resulting loss of up to four autumn Test matches.
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