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July 24, 2016

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USA Sevens Rugby: More than just a sport

Rugby tournament brings international culture to Las Vegas

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Tom Donoghue / DonoghuePhotography.com

USA Sevens Rugby on Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015, at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas.

2015 USA Sevens Rugby at Sam Boyd

A United States player looks to score versus South Africa during the USA Sevens International Rugby Tournament  at Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015. Launch slideshow »

2015 USA Sevens Rugby Parade of Nations

The USA Sevens Rugby Parade of Nations at Fremont Street Experience on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015, in downtown Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Every March, USA Sevens Rugby brings one of the sport’s biggest tournaments to Las Vegas, and our melting pot of a city becomes even more diverse.

Sixteen of the best national rugby teams in the world will square off March 4-6 at Sam Boyd Stadium, which will be invaded by fans from every corner of the globe.

USA Sevens has planned a full week of festivities including a pep rally, a Parade of Nations on Fremont Street and an International Beer, Wine and Food Festival outside the stadium.

The schedule

Wednesday, March 2

11 a.m.: Team USA pep rally with players, coaches and cheerleaders in the Monte Carlo Plaza between Double Barrel Roadhouse and Diablo’s Cantina

6 p.m.: Autograph signing by teams USA and South Africa at Todd English Pub at the Shops at Crystals

6 p.m.: Coaching development summit at the Westgate

Thursday, March 3

8 a.m.: Las Vegas Invitational amateur tournament, which includes 300 rugby teams with players ages 14 to 50-plus. Games will be played at Star Nursery Fields and the Silver Bowl Soccer Complex near Sam Boyd Stadium and Heritage Park.

5 p.m.: Rugby medical symposium at Aria

6:30 p.m.: Opening ceremony and Pride of Nations parade at the Fremont Street Experience

Friday, March 4

8 a.m.: Continued play of the Las Vegas Invitational

3 p.m.: Gates open at Sam Boyd Stadium.

4 p.m.: Men’s and women’s pool rounds one and two at Sam Boyd Stadium

Saturday, March 5

8 a.m.: Continued play of the Las Vegas Invitational

10 a.m.: Gates open at Sam Boyd Stadium.

11 a.m.: Men’s pool round three and quarterfinal matches at Sam Boyd Stadium

Sunday, March 6

9:30 a.m.: Gates open at Sam Boyd Stadium.

10:20 a.m.: Men’s semifinals and finals, and women’s finals at Sam Boyd Stadium

9 p.m.: Official wrap party at the Pub, the Plaza and Double Barrel, all at Monte Carlo

“You can get anything from meat pies from New Zealand to sausages from South Africa,” said Rob Cornelius, vice president of business development for United World Sports, which stages the tournament. “We’ve had the food in the past; now we are adding beers from around the world. Maybe you’re not a rugby fan, but you really get a flavor of the world with this event.”

The influx of culture is perhaps even more apparent in the stadium itself.

“The patriotic passion that is in the stands is unbelievable,” Cornelius said. “It is a place for everyone to meet up from around the country and the world, and it truly is more than a sport.”

Last year, the event pumped an estimated $30 million into the Las Vegas economy. This year, organizers expect an even bigger haul. Of the fans attending, more than 95 percent are from outside Las Vegas and 30 percent are from outside the United States, Cornelius said.

The tournament will be U.S. rugby fans’ last chance to see the top talent in the sport before players head to Rio de Janiero for the Summer Olympics.

The favorites heading into the tournament are defending champion Fiji and the New Zealand All Blacks, who are coming off a Rugby World Cup title.

Fastest on the planet

The United States’ Carlin Isles is touted as the fastest rugby player on the planet. His 4.22-second 40-yard dash time is faster than any player timed at the NFL Scouting Combine, and he has been timed faster over 20 meters than gold medal sprinter Usain Bolt.

Is it dangerous?

Concerns about concussions and potential long-term brain damage have plagued football for years. More recently, rugby has come under fire.

Rugby players use less protection than football players — no helmets or pads — but USA Sevens officials say they do everything they can to promote safety.

For instance, rugby players are taught to keep their heads out of the way when tackling. Deliberate head-to-head contact isn’t part of the game, as it is in football. Most bangs to the head in rugby are accidental, from stray knees or elbows, or falls.

In fact, a Seattle consulting firm, Atavus, has worked with Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks, as well as Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes, to try to change football tackling so it more closely resembles rugby tackling, to try to reduce head injuries.

“They are doing clinics on rugby tackling, on how to take the head out of tackling,” Cornelius said. “It is also proving to be a more efficient tackle and gives teams the ability to keep those players healthy and on the field.”

Atavus will be at the Westgate giving coaching seminars throughout the week.

Students adopt a country

Since 2011, USA Sevens has partnered with the Clark County School District to help teach geography, history, culture and language to students in the Las Vegas Valley.

The program starts in October, when select elementary schools are assigned one of the 16 countries playing in the tournament. The students learn about the country and its culture, write essays and design T-shirts.

Players from each team visit the school the week of the tournament.

During the Parade of Nations, winners of the T-shirt and essay contests are awarded prizes and are invited to walk with their team down a red carpet on Fremont Street.

The learning program culminates with the almost 2,500 participating students attending rugby games at Sam Boyd Stadium to root on their adopted country.

••••

How Sevens Rugby is played

• Each team consists of seven players. Teams have five reserve players and can make three substitutions per game.

• Each game lasts 14 minutes and includes two 7-minute halves. Play time is much shorter than in conventional rugby games, which consist of two 40-minute halves. Teams switch sides of the field at halftime.

Try (5 points)

To score a try, a player must place the ball on the ground past their opponent’s try line, similar to a touchdown.

Conversion (2 points)

After a try is scored, the scoring team gets to attempt a conversion by kicking the ball through the uprights, similar to a point after a touchdown attempt in football. In sevens rugby, the conversion must be attempted within 40 seconds of the try being scored and must be a drop kick rather than a place kick.

Out of bounds

When the ball or a player holding the ball goes out of bounds, a lineout takes place between two or three players and the ball is thrown back into play.

Penalties

Players can be penalized for violent play using elbows, punches or kicks, or for breaking rules such as not releasing the ball after being tackled. In sevens rugby, if a player receives a yellow card for a penalty, he is relegated to the sin bin — rugby’s version of a penalty box — for two minutes. In conventional rugby, the penalty clock runs 10 minutes.

After a penalty, play is started with a scrum. Scrummaging takes place between three forwards from each team, who link arms, put their heads down and pack closely together to try to gain possession of the ball.

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