Rugby Returns!

Event Background
After a 92 year hiatus from the world’s largest sporting platform, there will be 24 teams and 288 nation-representing rugby players in Brazil over the next two weeks for the men’s and women’s Rugby competition. They will be part of the first ever rugby sevens competition contending for medals. There had been four times when rugby was a medal event, but back then it was the usual rugby union 15 man squads that played.

Rugby SevensFrance won the inaugural men’s competition in 1900 and eight years later the next tournament was won by the Australasian team – a combination of Australian and New Zealand players. It was 12 years before rugby resumed and in both 1920 and 1924, the United States was victorious. The last final in 1924 had its own controversy. During the last competition, the French rugby players had to assist the police in protecting the US rugby players when the field was rushed by the crowd after their home team lost!
That means the United States is the defending men’s champion and since women did not compete previously that first ever title is up for grabs making for a gripping competition.

2016 Sees Start of Rugby Sevens

The return of rugby will be in the form of Rugby Sevens as opposed to the more traditional fifteens game. Each team has seven players on a full regulation field with two seven minute halves with a two minute halftime. Final matches usually have 10 minute halves to decide the winner. While this doesn’t sound like a long time, Rugby Sevens is one of the most physically demanding sports in the world given all of the open space, running and tackling involved.

The inaugural competition will involve 12 teams playing in a three pool format. Here are the Men’s Pool and schedules and the Women Pool and schedules.

The competition runs from August 6 to August 11 with the women’s team competing on the first three days (August 6 – 8) and the men on the last three (August 9 – 11). Rugby will be the first team medals awarded at this year’s competition. A full listing of USA TV broadcasts and other channels to watch can be found here.

Key Terms

There is a jargon all to its own in Rugby. Here are some key terms and phrases you are likely to hear and what they mean:
Try: A team is awarded 5 points when the ball is grounded by a player across the opposition’s try line.  This is equivalent to a touchdown in American football with the key difference being you actually have to touch the ball down under control in rugby.
Conversion: After a team scores a try they have the opportunity to add a further 2 points by kicking the ball between the posts from a spot in line with the try mark via a drop goal.
Drop-goal: The ball is dropped to the ground by the player and then kicked towards the posts.
Forward Pass:  In Rugby the ball can only be passed from the hands backwards (you can kick it forward at any time however).  Whenever a player is deemed to have thrown a ball that does not travel laterally or behind it is called a forward pass and results in a scrum to the opposition.
Knock-on:  When a player drops the ball in front of them this is considered a type of forward pass specifically referred to as a ‘knock on’.  The game is restarted by a scrum to the opposing team after a knock on just like a forward pass.
Scrum: The scrum is used to restart the game after a knock-on, forward pass or other specific types of penalties. The two groups of forwards pack down, three on three, to compete for the ball, which is put into the middle of the two sets of players. The forwards from each team then work to hook the ball to their side or push over the ball similar to a face off in hockey or a tip off in basketball. 
Lineout: When the ball goes out of bounds, the game is restarted by the ball being thrown back onto the field similar to soccer. The major difference in rugby is that both teams line up across from one another and compete for the ball which has to be thrown down the middle of the two lines or “down the tunnel”.  The team that did not carry or kick the ball out of bounds gets to throw the ball back in bounds.

Rugby Sevens Rules and Game Play

Match basics
Each match consists of two teams of seven players each on the field, with 5 substitutes on the sideline. Each team can make up to 5 substitutions per game, but players that have been substituted cannot come back on once they have been subbed off.

There are two halves consisting of seven minutes each with a 2 minute halftime break (Finals are extended to 10 minute halves)

Each team attempts to score more points than their opposition through a combination of scoring tries, conversions and penalty kicks (more on that below)

After the initial kick off, the scoring team has to kick off to the team that has been scored on just like in American football.

If a player commits a serious penalty he can be awarded a yellow or red card. A yellow card will send the player to the ‘Sin Bin’ for 2 minutes (time in play not actual time). A red card will see that player ejected from the game and their team has to play down a player for the rest of the game.

A penalty results in a scrum that takes place between 3 forwards. These forwards bind together and interlock their heads. The scrum half feeds the ball into the channel between them and retrieves the ball from the back of the scrum.

If the ball goes out of bounds a lineout occurs (see definition above) with a player from the team that did not carry or kick the ball out throwing the ball back in to play.

There are three primary ways to score in Rugby Sevens:
1. Scoring a ‘try’ is worth 5 points and is done by moving the ball up the field and touching the ball in the try zone (similar to an American football touchdown but you have to physically touch the ball down in the end zone with control).
2. After each try a team has the opportunity to ‘Convert’ it for 2 points. The ball has to be drop kicked from a spot along the line from where the ball was touched down in the try zone. This is why you will see players try to “center” the ball after entering the try zone. The conversion must be taken within 40 seconds of the try being scored.
3. Kicking a drop goal from normal game play OR drop kicking a penalty goal (taken from the spot of the foul) are worth 3 points.

Points of Interest

The men’s and women’s rugby competitions will be held at the 15,000 seat Deodoro Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.  The women’s competition kicks off the event with games starting on August 6 and the medals handed out on August 8.  The men’s tournament starts the following day with medals presented on August 11. 

24 teams (12 men’s and 12 women’s) qualified for Rio.  Brazil’s men’s and women’s teams qualified automatically as hosts.  The other 11 teams qualified in 1 of 3 ways: 1) by finishing in the top 4 of the 2014/15 World Sevens Series, 2) by winning their regional qualification event (the USA men’s and women’s teams qualified by winning their regional tournaments), or 3) by winning the repechage tournament comprised of 2nd place finishers at the regional tournaments.

The 7’s games have a festival atmosphere with fans regularly dressing up in costumes as they support their team and take in the action.  Rio should play to this perfectly with locals accustomed to taking to the street in costume with their famous annual Carnival celebrations.

The competition to earn a place on the podium will be fierce. Fiji is the favorite in the men’s tournament having won the last 2 World Sevens Series titles. But it does not mean they are invincible as 6 different teams won a tournament on this year’s 10-stop Sevens World Series tour. If Fiji can hold true to form and make the podium it will be the first medal for the Pacific Island nation. New Zealand no longer rule the women’s game with Australia, Canada, and England all bettering them at stops on this year’s women’s tour. Australia took home the overall points title. The fact that all the medal positions are up for grabs makes the games that much more enjoyable to watch.

“It’s a fantastic moment for rugby,” Bernard Lapasset, the chairman of World Rugby from 2008 through 2016, said. “It’s amazing to be part of the world’s biggest festival of sports. I am very proud to be here. The dream has become reality.”