USA Sevens Announces Largest Attendance Yet!

According to the IRB and USA Sevens, over 64,000 rugby fans visited UNLV’s Sam Boyd Stadium over the three days of the tournament and over 30,000 attended the second day of games – making it the largest rugby crowd ever in North America.

Tournament Director Dan Lyle said

We have quite a lot of people from the southern hemisphere in the stands but it’s Las Vegas and that lends itself to the international party that we promote and adding the element of high class sporting fun it is really exciting to be in the middle of a growth element and proving some points that the sport is on the rise.

With the facilities offered by an NCAA Division I university like UNLV, and the unique entertainment opportunities in Las Vegas, Nev. (as opposed to that hotbed of night life, Las Vegas, N.M.) the USA Sevens has a chance to continue the stellar growth it has achieved since moving to Las Vegas and eventually become one of the top two venues in the HSBC Sevens World Series, second only to the iconic Hong Kong Sevens.

With almost half of the tournament’s visitors attending on Saturday, I wonder if the tourney would be better served moving from a three-day schedule (much like the Hong Kong Sevens) to a two-day tournament to serve as many visitors as possible without taxing their resources.  Some of the matches broadcast on NBC had fairly empty looking stadiums, not a criticism but I’m just wondering if moving the tournament to two days will help keep more fans in the stands.

One of the great things that the team at the USA Sevens have been able to secure is broadcast time on NBC and NBC Sports for the last couple of years. This, along with coverage of the collegiate sevens championship, is presenting rugby in a form that many U.S. sporting fans can quickly understand.

IRB Announces Hong Kong Pools–Does USA No Favors

The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union recently announced the pools for the Hong Kong Sevens, the next leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series. Long considered the premier event in the Sevens World Series Calendar, the Hong Kong Sevens has long hosted 24 teams, in six pools of four, as opposed to the four pools of four that every other tournament has. This gives exposure to more nations which might have been passed over for the other tournaments, such as this year’s entrants Spain, the Philippines, Russia, Portugal, China and others.

(You can find the full listings of HK Sevens pools here)

The United States finds itself in Pool B, facing off with Sevens World Series leader New Zealand, last year’s USA Sevens champions (and sitting in third place in this year’s standings) South Africa and plucky U.K. representative #8 ranked Wales. While the U.S. went winless the first day of the USA Sevens tournament, the Eagles were able to score a nice win against France before being eliminated by the Aussies in the Bowl semifinals. Will the USA be able to carry their form against France through to the Hong Kong Sevens?

Another SuperSite favorite, Kenya, might be able to find a better result in the Far East. Facing USA Sevens champions Samoa, as well as England and Argentina in Pool A. While each of these teams are ranked above Kenya, the Kenyans have been able to pull out many close matches against top talent in recent years (remember their back and forth match with the All Blacks at the 2011 USA Sevens). Plus with stars like Collins Injere coming back from injury to the team, the Kenyans have the potential to pull an upset on at least Argentina, and possibly Samoa.

One of the problems for the US, and other smaller rugby nations, in the USA Sevens might have been the quick turnaround between the New Zealand Sevens and the event in Las Vegas – less than a week to return to the States, shake off the jetlag of 16+ hours in the air and return to form. Now the teams in the World Sevens Series have over a month and a half before they have to return to the pitch at the Hong Kong Sevens, giving them plenty of time to recover and prepare.

NOTE: The Hong Kong Sevens is one of the world’s most storied and popular sevens tournaments, starting in 1976 after a discussion between the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union and an executive from the Rothmans’ Tobacco company. The inaugural Hong Kong Sevens tournament hosted national teams from throughout the Asia-Pacific Rim, as well as representative teams from Australia and New Zealand.

For decades since the inaugural Hong Kong Sevens, the tournament became THE event to follow if you were a Sevens Rugby fan, especially for the excited and rambunctious fans, who are often worth the price of entry alone. It can also be argued (and I often do) that the popularity of the Hong Kong Sevens, along with a select few other Sevens Tournaments (Scotland’s Border Sevens among them) for fostering the eventual creation of the IRB Sevens World Cup and the current Sevens World Series.

Quick Note: Samoans Deny All Black Back-to-Back IRB Sevens Championships

Samoa denied New Zealand back-to-back IRB Sevens tourney championships as the All Blacks are once again the bridesmaids in Las Vegas, losing to Samoa 26-19. Samoa won with a last-second try as time expired. The try capped a scoring flurry in the last few minutes of the Cup Finals match, with New Zealand fighting back from a 19-7 deficit in the second half to tie the game at 19-19 with time ticking down.

Samoa’s Alafoti Faosiliva powered over New Zealand defenders en route to scoring the Samoans’ game winning try after time had expired. Since the ball was still in play, as long as there were no game stoppages (penalties, etc) the game carried on after the clock read :00. Instead of kicking for touch and moving the game into the 5-minute sudden death OT, Samoa kept the ball in play after receiving New Zealand’s kickoff (once the All Blacks tied the game at 19) and drove the ball at the Kiwis. After passes crossing the width of the field and back, Faosiliva found the ball in his hands and fought his way across the try line.

The game was a nice contrast of styles – New Zealand played a nice, patient, finesse style of game, but still wasn’t afraid to take the ball into contact, while the Samoans seemed to crave running directly at the All Blacks. The first half stats showed the difference in each team’s style, with New Zealand completing many more passes than the Samoans, but the Samoans holding onto a 12-5 lead at the half.

USA Sevens Announces Pools

The United States Eagles once again find themselves facing an uphill battle in this weekend’s USA Sevens tournament after the pool matches were announced earlier this week.

The USA is in Pool B, along side #2 ranked Fiji and #9 Argentina. Even #11 Canada might be giving the Eagles a little bit of a problem this week. What do you think? Will the Eagles repeat their performance of last week in Wellington? Or will they be able to rally and take one or even two wins in the first day of pool matches?

IRB Opens Sevens Series to “Entire World” … Or Does It?

The International Rugby Board had decided to open up the Sevens World Series to all nations in a qualifying tournament at the Hong Kong Sevens. According to the International Rugby Board:

Three teams will advance from a dedicated 12-team regional qualifier finale, securing coveted core team status and joining the current core teams…

Which would increase the number of teams participating in each leg of the Sevens World Series from 12 to 15.

I hate to play the part of the wet blanket on the IRB, but I have to ask –

Continue reading “IRB Opens Sevens Series to “Entire World” … Or Does It?”

All Blacks Wins NZ Sevens – What Does Fate Hold for Las Vegas?

The New Zealand All Blacks once again reigned supreme in Wellington at last weekend’s New Zealand stage of the IRB Sevens World Series. Aptly called the “Hertz Sevens,” for title sponsor the Hertz Car Rental Company, the All Blacks dished out plenty of ass kickings all around in Wellington – going undefeated in pool play and sweeping their way through the championship bracket en route to their tournament victory. With the win the All Blacks broke their tie with runners-up Fiji at the top of the Sevens World Series standings.

Team USA hit the wall in Wellington, going 0-for-the tournament. After a promising 21-0 loss to USA Sevens Tourney champs South Africa, the Eagles lost to England and finally to the Cook Islands (26-22) in their last match of the first day. The second day Eagles fans were witness to defeats to Wales and Scotland to knock them completely out of the tournament.

And the Kenyans, looking to recover from their first day 1-3 showing (with a victory over Australia) put Wales and Scotland to the sword before handing Australia their second loss in two days with a 12-7 win in the Wellington Bowl Finals.

Now the eyes of the Rugby World turn to the United States, for this weekend’s USA Sevens in Las Vegas.

There are several questions that need to be asked and answered by the time the USA Sevens ends this weekend. Can the All Blacks hold on to their tight series lead over Fiji and England? Can the Islanders rally this weekend in Vegas? And what about defending USA Sevens champions South Africa, can they repeat as champions? And what about Kenya? The Kenyans and their fans always delight the crowd in Las Vegas!

And, of course, how will the teams recover from a grueling weekend of Sevens in New Zealand, a 14-16 hour flight, and preparation in the Nevada desert in less than a week?  These questions and more will be answered this weekend! If you don’t have Universal Sports, or the NBC Sports Network, formerly known as the “Versus” network, you can catch the latest updates at universalsports.com or usarugby.org!

Getting Your Sevens Fix This Week!

It’s that time again! This weekend marks the latest installment in the IRB’s wildly popular (of course it is… well you tell me how many other rugby matches you’ve seen on network TV this winter?) World Sevens Series tournament – the USA Sevens!

While it appears that this year’s USA Sevens isn’t going to be on NBC’s network lineup this year, if you’re lucky enough to have either Universal Sports, or the NBC Sports channel, you’ll still have the chance to watch plenty of Sevens this weekend.  And, as it turns out, plenty of other World Sevens Series matches this spring as well! You can catch the TV lineup here!

So I have to admit something to the SuperSite nation (all 2 of you 😉 ) I’ve just finished watching the ’73 Barbarians vs. All Blacks match (for the 100th time or so) and, while a very nice piece of complete team play, I’m not convinced that Gareth Edwards’ try in the 4th minute deserves its title of “The Greatest Try of All Time.” Much like the U.S. Olympic Hockey team’s 1980 win over the Russians has become immortalized more for Al Michaels’ overhyping (“Do you believe in miracles??”), the never ending adulation for Edwards’ try seems to come from the fact that the announce team was hyped up on Meth as he scored.  Looking at the play of Gavin Hastings, Jonah Lomu, Ritchie McCaw or David Campese, many of their tries are just as exciting, if not as well lauded.

What do you think? Am I in the wrong? Was this in fact the “Greatest Try of All Time?”

Giving the USA Sevens a Brazilian… um.. twist!

The field for the USA Sevens leg of the IRB Sevens World Series is starting to come together nicely, with this report from the IRB that Brazil has been invited to Las Vegas to give the sevens a whirl.

It makes sense to invite the Brazilians, if for no other reason than the combination of Brazil’s fans and the ever entertaining Kenyan fans could be an explosion of awesomeness! But Brazil is also the host country of the 2016 Olympic Games, where Rugby Sevens will debut.  According to the IRB story:

Continue reading “Giving the USA Sevens a Brazilian… um.. twist!”

Is Sonny Bill on the Move Again?

According to a Jan. 1 (2012, gotta love the news from the “future” 😉 ) report from NZ’s “Stuff” news portal, former (?) All Black Sonny Bill Williams might be pondering moving back to Rugby League after what can only be considered a successful move to Rugby Union back in 2008.

The versatile, multi-position savvy Williams was recently seen lunching with his manager, Khoder Nasser, along with Nick Politis, the head honcho of the Sydney Roosters from the Australia’s National Rugby League (Roosters? Really? OK, I guess it really can’t be worse than “Seahawks” or “Cardinals”) and David Gyngell, from Australia’s Channel Nine.

In this article from the Herald Sun, Williams is ready to sign a five-year, $4 million deal with the Roosters in 2013. Why the wait? And why does this matter? In 2008 Williams left the Canterbury Bulldogs, and Rugby League, to cash a paycheck playing Rugby Union in France (a popular landing spot for ruggers looking to extend their careers (see Wilkinson, Johnny), revive their careers (see Henson, Gavin), or make more money (as was apparently the case here)). At the time, Williams was 18 months into a 5-year contract with the Bulldogs. The French club Williams signed on with ended up having to pay a 300,000-pound transfer fee for his services. But one clause in his release prevents Williams from playing for a rival National Rugby League club – that clause expires in 2012, opening up new options for him in the following year.

(For more on the war raging between rugby league and rugby union, please read this.)

I’m torn on this one, on one hand it’s surprising to me that anyone playing for the All Blacks, and landing deals to play in New Zealand’s national competition and for New Zealand teams in the Super Rugby international pro league would turn their back on the opportunity, especially having just come off of a World Cup victory campaign. Of course, I’m also an All Blacks mark as well, the Kiwi’s being near and dear to my heart.

On the other hand, this is par for the course for the mercurial Williams. In addition to the jump from Rugby League to Rugby Union and the expected jump back (each time for monetary reasons), Williams is also a professional boxer (as are a few rugby professionals, or former rugby pros) and representative of the aforementioned Australia Channel Nine.

Plus Williams’ agent, Khoder Nasser, is a very shrewd, and hard-ass, negotiator – Nasser is a rare rugby agent, comfortable not being part of the “elite, privately educated clique” that much of professional rugby still pride themselves on being connected to. Nasser sees his job as shaking up this system, and getting as much money as possible for his client (and by extension himself) – bringing an interesting personal focus to what has always been considered a “team-first” rugby mentality.

It will be interesting to see what the next couple of years bring to the pair of Williams and Nasser, will the move back to Rugby League prove lucrative for them? Have they burned their bridges with the All Blacks and a potential 2015 RWC championship run?