Olympic Update: The 411’s on Rugby Sevens

Also referred to Sevens or seven-a-side, rugby sevens will be making a different splash of sorts at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

For starters, there will not be 15 players to a side like there was when the last rugby union was contested in 1924.  A more revised, TV friendly set-up where only seven players will be on one side of a field measuring 330 feet long by 230 feet (a little longer than your standard NFL football field setup) will make the game move on at a more modest pace.

Among the seven players (instead of the 15 in old-time rugby union matches), there are three forwards and four backward people.  A typical setup would have the Props on the top edge (free safeties if you want to think in football terms), surrounded in the middle by the Hooker (similar to a pulling guard).  The other players are considered as the Scrum Half, Fly-Half, Center, and Winger/Fullback.

Five subs sit on the bench, which mostly resembles your typical soccer bench and not the open sidelines with Microsoft Surface photo booths surrounding NFL sidelines these days.

Other key rules that make this sport very easy to follow include the following:

  • Five substitutes, with five interchanges (instead of having 7 each way).
  • Seven-minute halves, though ten-minute halves are allowed in the final of a competition (instead of 40-minute halves, in the 15-a-side version).  When other national matches take place, it was a 10 minute half and a 12 minute half for the championship match like it was during April at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas.
  • One or two minute halftime period (instead of 10 minutes).
  • Matches tied after regulation are continued into extra time, in multiple 5-minute periods until the draw is broken.
  • All conversion attempts must be drop-kicked (similar to Australian rules football, instead of having the option to place-kick).
  • Conversions must be taken within 40 seconds of scoring a try (instead of 60 seconds).  All conversions are worth two points.
  • Three player scrums (instead of eight).
  • Kick-offs: in sevens, the team which scored kicks off, rather than the conceding team, as in the 15-a-side game.  All passes are to be behind players instead of in front, otherwise a penalty would be called.
  • Yellow cards will warrant a 2-minute suspension (instead of 10 minutes) to the offender.  The offender will head off to the sin bin, and a subsequent power play will be awarded to the opposing team. But unlike what we see in ice hockey, if the opposing team scores a try (successfully gets the ball across the opponents’ end line) during that power play, the offender may not return to the field after the 5 point score is made.
  • Referees decide on the advantage quickly (where one play would usually end up in an advantage, totally different rule in the 15 a side game).
  • In major competitions, there are additional officials present (called in-goal touch judges) to judge success of kicks at the goals and hence the game will not be delayed as touch judges moved into position to judge conversion attempts.

Besides the host nation, the United States joined other qualifiers in powerful nations like South Africa, Fiji and New Zealand (both men and women).  Other key nations to watch out for include on the men’s side:  Great Britain, France, and Argentina while on the ladies side of the ledger, the United States will go up against the likes of Australia, Columbia, and Canada.

The competition will take place from August 6 to 11 (weather permitting, of course).

Here is the final match from this past February at the HSBC Sevens event, when Fiji came in undefeated as they took on the powerhouse that is New Zealand:

Only time will tell if Rugby Sevens will catch on with the rest of the world, especially in the United States and Brazil.  But after watching a match on NBC after a Stanley Cup playoff hockey match involving the Chicago Blackhawks beating the Nashville Predators, I was immediately hooked.

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