With the NHL on its way and the NFL playing footsie with Las Vegas, it’s important not to overlook the great sporting traditions already underway in our Valley. The USA Sevens International Rugby Tournament, introduced in LA in 2004 , first came to Sam Boyd Stadium in 2010 and drew 24,000 people over three days. Last year the tournament, the largest annual rugby event in the United States, hosted 80,000 fans. Each year the competition, fanbase and ancillary events—which include a golf tournament, a parade of nations, educational programs and a medical symposium—have expanded.
Rugby sevens features only seven players per side, as opposed to the 15 in Rugby union, and each game consists of seven-minute halves. It makes for a free-flowing, faster-paced game, and it also means fans get to see several matchups in one sitting. Each country’s supporters have their own traditions, including songs and chants, but rather than insular, the atmosphere feels joyous and welcoming. Costumes are de rigueur. Newcomers to the game are embraced, especially if they’re willing to adopt their neighbor’s country of choice. We spoke with Rob Cornelius, vice president of business development for USA Sevens, to get the scoop on what’s new and exciting in 2017.
Welcome the ladies. For the first time in Las Vegas, the event will be home to a women’s sevens tournament along with its usual men’s competition, offering even more opportunities to catch the action. The USA women took second at a recent sevens tournament in Sydney. “We’re very excited to have the women here, and women’s rugby is really booming,” Cornelius says. “It gives the little girls who are interested something more to relate to, and it’s a new and special event for the fans.”
Culinary delights abound. When fans aren’t cheering on their country, they’re most likely sampling the fare at the extremely diverse beer, wine and food festival at Sam Boyd. There are food stalls representing many of the countries, offering dishes that are hard to come by elsewhere. “It really is a global cultural event more than anything else,” Cornelius says. “At the food stalls, you can’t miss the meat pies from New Zealand and sausages from South Africa.”
Think of the children. This year, 26 different Clark County schools will “adopt a country,” learning about its chosen land’s culture and history, and will then get to meet rugby players from that nation. “It’s one of the coolest things we do, and one of the special times of the year for me,” Cornelius says. “The kids are so excited, and they immediately make these athletes loosen up, and the players become kids again. It’s very special.”
The world comes to you. The tournament is truly international, with players and fans present from all over the world. The atmosphere feels more like a raucous party than a sporting contest. “This year we are expecting more than 90,000 people,” Cornelius says. “Las Vegas is a perfect destination. The other events in the series are in Hong Kong, Dubai, Sydney and London. Vegas is easier for the world to get to, and cost-wise for fans it’s cheaper than Dubai or Hong Kong.”
The bandwagon’s coming. Rugby is one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S., and the college and high school ranks are expanding. Rugby sevens was added to the Olympics last year in Rio. The U.S. Olympic team didn’t make it out of the first round, but the ruggers from the states are showing steady improvement. “Rugby continues to grow domestically,” Cornelius says “I think we’re seeing a difference in the popularity of the sport. With another Olympic cycle to help build the sport, I think it will only continue to grow. Of course if the U.S. team has some success, that would be a boost.”
USA Sevens Rugby March 3-5, $43-$216, Sam Boyd Stadium.
RANDOM RUGBY GLOSSARY
Rugby dates back to the 1820s, and like any sport with a significant history, it has its own nomenclature. We could give you the most crucial, important vocabulary, but it’s more fun to share the wackiest words from the rugby lexicon.
ANKLE TAP A last ditch tackle when a ball carrier appears to be breaking away, but the defender manages to dive, hit the opponent’s leg and make the tackle.
BLOOD SUB Rugby players, once substituted out, cannot return to the game—with one exception. A player who is bleeding can be temporarily replaced while he receives first aid.
HOOKER The cheekiest of all rugby position names, which also include wingers, flankers and props. The hooker plays the center of the front row of the scrum, and uses his feet to hook the ball back toward a teammate.
HOSPITAL PASS A pass thrown to a teammate a split second before he is obliterated by an opposing tackler, after which he’s likely to need medical treatment.
KNOCK ON Losing, dropping or knocking the ball forward from a player’s hand, which results in the ball being awarded to the other team in a scrum.
SCRUM Used to restart play after an illegal pass. The forwards from each side bind together, and the two packs come together. The ball is then fed into the tunnel formed by the two sides.
TRY The original touchdown. A team scores five points when it crosses the opposing team’s goal line and touches the ball to the ground. Unlike in American football, if the player doesn’t maintain possession and put the ball on the ground over the line, there’s no score.