2018 saw the launch of the hugely successful London 9s Rugby Festival that took place in East London last July.
Some massive teams from all over the UK and abroad took part in a Rugby9s tournament like no other. Cheerleaders, 100ft inflatables, street food as well as The Challenge Cup being on show!
Last year, we spoke to Graham Oliphant, the founder of Rugby Festival Events for his thoughts on the lead up the event, which you can read here.
We caught up with Graham in the lead up to the second event, taking place on Sunday 25th August 2019, again at East London RFC…
Fill Your Boots – Last year was a huge success for the London 9s, where can it go from here?
Graham Oliphant – Thank you. We set out to try and raise the bar of the average amateur rugby league event. We looked at what people wanted in terms of an experience and attempted to deliver that, bringing a festival atmosphere to the day.
As an independent tournament we are eager to enhance the use of ‘Rugby9s’ as an exciting format, derived from Rugby League 9s, where participating teams can enjoy fast and furious fifteen minute games, playing a variety of teams from across the world, all on one day.
The format is a blended form of RL9s, and we welcome both League and Union entries. In fact we had some great match-ups last year between a 7s team form London and a 9s outfit from Australia. Both playing Rugby9s. Where else would you see that?
So, I do believe this will become more popular, as it is unique. We are also attracting more amateur teams from outside the UK now.
FYB – Who is taking part in this year’s competition?
GO – We teams from several Nations represented for 2019. Two teams from the USA are flying over and looking to build on their success in the Carolina9s.
The Red Star Belgrade RL team, the Balkan RL Champions, are bringing a party of 21 adults across from Serbia. They’ll be looking for silverware too! In fact its a great story behind their journey, as they won their first ever game on English soil at the London9s in 2018. Of course they also made history by playing in the 1st round of the Challenge Cup earlier this year, and now they’ll be back, attending Wembley on the weekend of the Final.
We have developing RL Nations such as Lithuania and Nigeria joining us this year and it will be exciting to see these athletes in action. Even the Africa Lions, a heritage RL side, with experience of the Cabramatta 9s, in NSW, are travelling over from Australia.
Wales is strongly represented this year with two teams, including the Welsh Mighty Ducks- a newly formed 9s team.
The Edinburgh Eagles carry the flag for Scotland and they’ll be keen to overcome teams from London9s 2018, such as the well supported Bath RL and local boys, Newham Dockers RL and London Skolars, as well as the new entrants Manchester Rangers.
The Boston Buccaneers always impress with their great ‘Pirate’ playing strip and healthy tour numbers and they enjoyed some great game last year against our charity team ‘MoBro Rugby’.
And of course we have a strong field of Womens sides. With Cas Tigers Ladies unable to make it this year due to a prior commitment, the contest will be wide open. The Royal Navy Ladies and RAF RL are well drilled and will be tough opposition for the USA Carolina9s Champs; Roots Family. With ‘MoSISTAS’ offering strong opposition and new entrants Barnes Bears and East London Vixens bringing their 7s experience in to the mix.
FYB – What new additions will fans see at this years event?
GO – The ‘MASS WARM-UP’ will be back again, thanks to our bootcamp trainers from ‘Beyond Limits Fitness’. This was great fun last year, seeing over 300 participants all warming up and doing synchronised(ish) burpees! A great fun way to start the day.
We will also be holding the UK v REST of the World in the BIG BOAT RACE (drinking challenge) ….. after the finals.
The live-stream of the event will be the big NEW addition this year. It’s a multinational operation though! We have a local London based Scaffold Company erecting a TV gantry and a production team coming from Europe, who we’ll be working with to deliver a full day of coverage and interviews, via our professional Streaming Partners, operating all the way from Australia. Details on how to access the global live stream can be found at
As we have numerous non-UK based teams taking part, there is a significant audience outside of the UK who want to see their mates and their country playing. This will also be a great way for our recruitment partners at Srama Rugby League Recruitment to view content on potential stars of the future!
FYB – There is a 9s World Cup taking place this year in Australia, what impact could that have on your event going forward?
GO – Yes, its great news. Raising the awareness of 9s as a format for fast action sport. This is also an awesome broadcast product where fans can see many teams playing all across a short time span.
We are supported by both the RFL and the RLWC2021 team, as we are working to raise the profile of Rugby League.
The RLIF World Cup 9s is a fantastic initiative and invaluable vehicle to draw more heritage players together from younger RL playing nations.
There’s every chance that in the future we can join the dots and we may see the London9s, and the growing Capital9s circuit, restructured, to act as feeder tournaments or qualification stages for the World Cup 9s.
FYB – There is an international feel to this years tournament, explain why you think teams are coming from all over to take part in the London 9s.
GO – Amateur teams from USA , Europe, Africa and even Australia will be travelling to London this August for the London9s.
We’ve been proactively marketing to the US and Canadian audience and reaching out to RL playing European nations to get involved.
London is a big draw as a tourist destination, and having an opportunity to come and explore for a few days, and enjoy a festival of Rugby9s here as well, is an amazing experience for a bunch of young friends.
So we are conscious to create a sports tourism opportunity for young adults to come to the Capital and play a sport they love. What’s not to love about that!
So much so we’ve received a number of applications from a wider range of overseas adult teams this year, who recognise this as a great platform to showcase their skills and make themselves visible for potential sponsors.
In particular, this is a great environment for developing nations, especially, to get great ‘game time’ as a 9s squad, and show the governing bodies their potential.
FYB – There is a RLWC in England on the horizon in 2021, how big of an event can that be?
GO – It’s going to be ground breaking! Some of the initiatives that the England2021 new deal with Deloitte can offer, in terms of in-stadia fan engagement will be phenomenal.
We have a support partnership with the RLWC2021 and the Team are kindly promoting the London9s event across their social media channels. In return we are extolling the virtues of 9s as a short form version of Rugby League.
RLWC2021 tickets go on sale next Summer and we’ll have a more involved role in being a vehicle to promote this to a young audience.
For 2021, London, as the Capital will featured heavily. Related events will take place at both the Olympic Park, and in North London, near to the Skolars playing base.
Work we are doing now, through the London9s and our partners, is already highlighting sports tourism opportunities for rugby league fans and players.
FYB – Last year we spoke about the Capital 9s circuit & you have joined up with the Carolina 9s, how much closer are we to the World 9s circuit?
GO – It was great to be able to work with Andy Lucas and his team to support their successful delivery of the Carolina9s this year.
This was a massive achievement by him. This was an entire week of activities relating to rugby league, which saw many historic firsts on US soil.
In fact its difficult to state just how significant this is, in planting the flag for RL in the USA and the development of access to wheelchair RL and the expansion of the women’s game.
With progressive guys like Nate Gladdin (RLinAmerica Podcast) involved as well we are excited to see what year 2 of the Carolina9s holds.
In regards to a wider Circuit, it takes time.
I have personally enjoyed visiting the guys in British Columbia, Canada, and discussing opportunities to work with them to develop with their BCRL9s annual tournament.
I also keep abreast of European 9s events and along with Steve Mascord, who is a great exponent of RL9s, we are trying to ‘join the dots’ and work with rights holders and event organisers to construct a ‘CIRCUIT’.
There are benefits to being part of a larger umbrella entity, and having some parity and uniformity on how these events are structured and delivered can be helpful.
We certainly don’t want to take them over- just bring some cohesion and look to develop an annual calendar, thus allowing teams and fans to plan ahead and have the opportunity to travel to one or more each year.
A connected ‘Circuit’ also allows for reciprocation as well as an attractive proposition for major umbrella sponsors, which benefit all concerned.
…work in progress!
FYB – Your event was pushed back to coincide with the Challenge Cup Final to create the London League Weekend, can you tell us more…
GO – Sure. Again, we looked at the major RL events and the calendar and decided that rather than have 3 separate events occurring in London over two months, why not bundle them all around the ‘main event’, namely the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley.
The RFL market this already and fans make, what is often, their annual exodus to the Capital, to support their team at the hallowed ‘Wemberleeee’.
Working with the RFL and with the Skolars, we decided to enhance this proposition and give fans the opportunity to enjoy 3 rugby league events, over the long weekend: namely the ‘London League Weekend’.
Fans can now travel to London on Friday afternoon and enjoy:
1- The Friday Nights Lights clash, between Skolars v Hunslet Hawks in League 1
2- a full day at the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium on the Saturday
3- head over on the Jubilee line on the Sunday for a full day of the London9s, with 12 hours of music and 3 bars
Then travel home on Monday…
…and all that for just £39 per person. Get your London League Weekend tickets here – bit.ly/LDNLW19
FYB – Live streaming is a major element of broadcasting these days, will fans get a chance to see the event if they cannot make it to London?
GO – Yes, we are working with a Media Company CKM Red 288 and an Australian based streaming platform Sportsflick to produce a live stream of the event.
This is an exciting time and we are looking to break new ground and raise the quality of the production. We have a two camera production team who will be filming the day from our TV gantry. We are keen to improve the quality of the production. So we’ll have 4 different commentators, who are researching the teams and key players.
We are also looking to enhance the results feeds so that this will be available via our social media.
We will have a free to air (FTA) feed on Facebook, moving to premium content and key interviews and insights on our subscription platform.
FYB – What will the 2020 London 9s tournament look like?!
GO – This is an exciting time and we are looking to solidify the London9s as a key rugby league 9s event in the annual calendar.
I don’t want to give to much away just yet, as there are some key discussions still taking place with new event partners.
We will however see more national representative RL teams enter and more women’s teams.
London 9s Rugby Festival 2019
Sunday 25th August 2019 – East London RFC
Get your tickets – bit.ly/FYBLDN