Sports

Five takeaways from Sevens Rugby’s latest Vegas battle royale

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Cecil Afrika of South Africa catches a line out in the final game against Fiji during the USA Sevens rugby tournament at Sam Boyd Stadium Sunday, March 5, 2017.
Photo: Steve Marcus
Chris Bitonti

1. It was another wonderfully rough weekend as the HSBC Sevens World Series made its annual American stop in Las Vegas on a year-long world tour. For those unfamiliar, this is the special rugby tournament when all the former British colonies (and some friends) get together and smash each other’s faces in for a chance at the queen’s hand in marriage … I think. As an American, I’m still figuring out the rules.

2. Rugby Sevens is like a mashup of sporting event, cosplay contest and international frat party, complete with national cheers and an amazing food court. And where else can you drink from an an old sneaker—“Shoot the Boot,” they call it—while an entire stadium audience cringes?

3. Expectations for the U.S. continue to escalate as the team and the sport gain prominence here. Before the Vegas competition, the Eagles’ year has been somewhat disappointing, considering the team has ended the past two in a respectable sixth place. But when Team USA entered Saturday undefeated after Friday’s play, hopes rose again. Two of the host nation’s most exciting games of the tournament ended in heartbreaking losses to England and South Africa, but USA still advanced to the semifinals and even defeated New Zealand for a third-place finish—its highest-ever finish at the event.

4. This was my eighth-consecutive year attending Rugby Sevens. I’ve turned into a serious fan of the sport; I haven’t missed a weekend since the tournament set down in Vegas in 2010. I follow Sevens throughout the season, my rugby jerseys outnumber my football ones and this is the weekend I look forward to most all year. I also make sure to bring some first-timers each year, so I can spread the rugby bug … and so I can wow them with my slightly advanced knowledge of the sport. I get to explain scrums and rucks and inevitably clarify, “No, it’s not an extremely supportive fanbase; they’re yelling ‘Try!’ because that’s what they call touchdowns.”

5. The Republic of South Africa ultimately took the title, winning a close championship match 19-12 over Fiji. The Springboks seem unstoppable this season with five tournaments behind them, five finals appearances and four golds.

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