An Introduction to Rugby 7s

During the month of April, Singapore and Canada hosted a touring international sports tournament. The United States placed sixth in Singapore and 13th in Canada. Currently, through six events, the United States is in fourth place overall. Unless you are in the know, these tournaments may have passed by you without a second thought. Rugby 7s is a sport on the rise. It’s the version of rugby played at the Olympics, and has been since the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. The World Rugby Sevens Series is the main “league” of sorts, where 16 countries participate in a series of tournaments. The World Rugby Sevens Series has 15 “core” teams and a 16th team that was promoted from the Challenger Series. Rugby 7s is a fast-paced game with lots of action in a compact, straightforward package.

Rugby 7s is a condensed version of rugby union, with 7 players on a side instead of the standard 15. Games are played in 7 minute halves with a two minute halftime break. Due to the brevity of the games, multiple are played in a day in a tournament style. Rugby 7s traces its origins to Melrose, Scotland in 1883. Two local butchers named Ned Haig and David Sanderson organized a rugby 7s match as a fundraiser for Melrose RFC, the local professional rugby team. The first match was played at The Greenyard, Melrose RFC’s home stadium, and thus a new sport was born. Sevens quickly spread to England and Ireland, then was introduced to New Zealand by an Irish expat. New Zealand is a rugby power, and their national team known as the All Blacks perform the traditional Maori haka dance before every fixture, a tradition dating back to 1905. The 1973 International Seven-A-Side Tournament in Scotland was one of the first officially sanctioned tournaments for national teams. The Rugby World Cup Sevens was first contested in 1993, and the World Rugby Sevens Series first held in 1999. The Olympics added 7s to the Summer Olympics starting in Brazil in 2016. The earliest documentation of the United States playing goes back to the 1980’s, when a team referred to as the “American Eagles” participated in the 1984 and 1986 editions of the Hong Kong Sevens.

Rugby 7s is played with 7 players a side, as opposed to 15. These players consist of 3 forwards (2 props and a hooker) and 4 backs (a scrum-half, a fly-half, a centre, and a wing). The ball can only be passed laterally, with a forward pass resulting in an offsides penalty. Rugby 7s is more flexible with jersey numbers, unlike standard 15 a side where jersey number is directly corresponded to the position a player occupies. When a player scores, it is a try. A try is worth 5 points, and a player must kick a conversion worth two points through the uprights.

Since 2014, the United States team has been coached by Englishman Mike Friday. Under his direction, players like Carlin Isles, Madison Hughes, and Perry Baker have flourished. Isles and Baker are former football players. Carlin Isles played college football at Ashland University, a Division II school in Ohio. He took up rugby in 2012 at the suggestion of US national team player Miles Craigwell, a college football wide receiver at Brown University. Isles spent some time on the Detroit Lions practice squad in 2013. Perry Baker is another college football to rugby 7s convert, having played at Fairmont State in West Virginia. Baker was introduced to rugby in 2006. A native of New Smyrna Beach, Florida, Baker played for the Daytona Beach Coconuts, and took up rugby full-time in 2013, after spending some time on the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad and two seasons in the Arena Football League with the Pittsburgh Power. Baker’s older brother Dallas and uncle Wes Chandler also played in the NFL. Isles and Baker have over 200 tries (219 and 217 respectively), making them 1 and 2 on the all-time tries list. Folau Niua, a team member since 2011, has the most appearances at 364. Current team captain Madison Hughes is the all-time leading scorer at 1,510 points (this counts tries, conversions, and penalties). Under Mike Friday, the USA has been able to win the 2015 London Sevens and 2018 USA Sevens, along with achieving 6th in the 2016 Summer Olympics and 9th in the 2020 Summer Olympics (technically the 2021 Olympics).

Rugby 7s is a wonderful introduction to the sport of rugby along with being a great sport to watch on its own. Its brevity allows for a more urgent, faster paced game compared to the standard 80 minutes long rugby matches. Heading into the upcoming 7s tournament in Nates, France, the United States is in Pool C with Scotland, Australia, and New Zealand. It’ll be a tough fight, but I believe in the USA Eagles, and I believe you should check out this sport.

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