Can Kenya Continue USA Sevens Momentum?

Kenya continued to impress at the USA Sevens, which has become their tournament almost as much as it has been for USA Rugby. After what can only be described as a lackluster start to their HSBC World Sevens Series campaign, Collins Injera led the Kenyans to victories over Wales (22-14) and Argentina (21-7) in Las Vegas to win the USA Sevens Plate championship.

Lumped into the same pool at #1 New Zealand and #2 Fiji in the season kickoff Australia Sevens, the Kenyans went 1-2 in the first day, racking up a win against Niue before losing to Tonga and Japan in the second day.

The Kenyans’ woes continued the following week in Dubai, going winless for the first day, including a surprising 21-5 loss to Zimbabwe. They rallied the second day with a 35-5 win against the UAE in the Shield semifinals before losing to Samoa to end their day.

The South Africa Sevens and New Zealand Sevens were not much kinder to Kenya, where they lost to Zimbabwe in the South African Sevens Shield Finals before beating Australia 12-7 in Wellington’s Shield Finals.

The New Zealand Sevens marked the start of Kenya’s upward swing, as they carried the momentum from their Shield win in Wellington to move one level up the competition in Las Vegas with a Plate victory.

The Kenyans have usually stepped up their game when playing in the USA Sevens, whether they are able to feed off of the energy of their fan base in the USA (they are usually a crowd favorite in Vegas) or they begin to gel as a team about that time.  Now the next question is, will they be able to carry that momentum on to the Hong Kong Sevens in late March?

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.

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!

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!”

USA Rugby: Desperately Seeking Coaching

Good evening ladies and gentlemen and all the ships at sea. This urgent telegraph message just in from USA Rugby:

USA Eagles men’s coach Eddie O’Sullivan has decided to call it a day in the U.S. and won’t be continuing his coaching career on this side of the pond – possibly wanting to explore professional opportunities in Europe.

O’Sullivan came to the Eagles in 2009, after his resignation as head coach of his home nation of Ireland, having led the green-and-white to three triple crowns (beating the other three British Isles rugby teams – Wales, Scotland and England) and finishing as high as second place in the Six Nations Championship. During his tenure Ireland also rose to as high as third in the IRB World Rankings.

Continue reading “USA Rugby: Desperately Seeking Coaching”

Is America Ready for a Pro Rugby Sevens Series?

Paging “Major League Rugby,” paging “Major League Rugby” – Patient in Operating Room Two.

Many years ago, back when we were still communicating with rocks and chisels, I had written a story about the feasibility of an organization called “Major League Rugby.” (link provided by the way way back machine at archive.org)

At the time, Major League Rugby was a curious idea – with teams based in a variety of cities, USA Rugby had its own competition which was, and to be fair after many iterations, still is USA Premier Rugby. Major League Rugby failed because it tried to bring a sport which was not ready for “prime time” into the American mainstream without the support of USA Rugby. When Major League Rugby then demanded use of USA Rugby’s officials and were denied

So fast forward to 2011 – we have a more mature international Sevens Series which is developing athletes and fans in parts of the world often overlooked by the Powers that Be of the Rugby Universe, we’ve recently witnessed a very successful USA Sevens International Tournament in Las Vegas and thanks to NBC we enjoyed live coverage of the USA Sevens and we’ll have the opportunity to see the collegiate Olympic Rugby championship and parts of the 2011 Rugby World Cup on network TV for the first time ever.  Rugby is the third fastest growing sport in America, and the women’s collegiate game is being considered to be a NCAA sport.

And of course, there’s that whole Olympic inclusion deal…

Is now the time to resurrect the “Major League Rugby” moniker (regardless of who owns it) and applying that to a new Olympic Rugby Series in America? I think it is, and in the next few posts I’m going to look at how a league might take shape here in America.

If it’s managed right, then rugby has a great potential to develop into a second tier sport, much like Major League Soccer or even the National Hockey League. But we have to have more foresight to developing a league that will last for years and take advantage of the inclusion of Olympic Rugby in the 2016 Olympic Games.

Some of my quick notes:

  • The league needs to be city-based, much as Major League Rugby.
  • There should be two conferences, east and west, with two divisions for each conference, for the north and south based teams.
  • In the new collegiate premier conference there have been reports of travel concerns as the season moves into the playoff rounds. This has to be avoided in Major League Rugby, with only the championship match to be played between the two conferences. (Say, maybe… at Disney World’s Wide World of Sports? Make it a weekend event for the entire family)
  • A maximum of 17 players per team, with room for reserve/”practice squad” players. (It allows for teams to play multiple matches per game without tiring our too many players)
  • Games should be played in a best-of-3 match series. The first team to win two matches wins the game. This will make it more attractive to TV if you can fill either 30 or 60 minutes of air time. Teams can field more players in a total series.
  • Draft – teams can’t be allowed to stockpile players, possibly with provisions to “franchise” one or two local players that come through their collegiate or youth rugby systems.
  • Salary Cap – each team has to have the same amount of money to offer in salaries to their players.  Possibly even a maximum per player spent amount, with bonuses built in for winning.
  • Teams need to be located in higher population centers, for marketing and interest reasons. Preferably with sevens teams that are already established and popular (NOVA, Atlantis, Seattle, etc.)

An important place to look for ideas has been the development of Major League Soccer over the past 2 decades or so.  MLS started out much in the same way that Major League Rugby needs to develop now.The original “Major League Rugby” might have been ahead of its time, without the organizational support, a broader spectator interest, or the financial foundation to make sense in the late 90s/early 00s, but now might be the right time to turn the growing interest in the sport into a second-tier professional league.