WHANGANUI, 5 Sept. – In the United States, rugby sevens is not just a fertile breeding ground for new talent, it is spearheading the campaign to introduce the American public to the “game they play in heaven”.
Dallen Stanford, the media manager for USA at Rugby World Cup 2011, played in 13 tournaments for the USA sevens team. He said rugby was one of the fastest growing sports in the United States, thanks largely to rugby sevens.
“Sevens is the way to market rugby better in America,” he said. “Sevens has proved successful on TV and the key to promoting it in America is to get it on TV.”
Several members of the Eagles RWC 2011 squad have played sevens at a high level, including centre Paul Emerick, who agreed that the abbreviated form of the game was a great way to promote rugby in the United States.
“Sevens was my first segue into rugby,” he said. “I was a crossover athlete, a wrestler and American football player. It was good (to play sevens) because you get more time on the ball and more space, and from there I jumped into the national 15s squad.”
Wing Colin Hawley was picked for the Eagles squad after impressing as a sevens player. He said he believes it offers something other American sports do not.
“The world’s eyes are on 15s (15-a-side rugby), but sevens is more along the lines of an American sport,” he said.
“There are lots of big plays, it’s short with intervals for commercials – and now there are a lot of people who enjoy both games.”
Stanford agreed. “It is a great game for kids because you get a lot of time on the ball and you score a lot, too, which is something the Americans like,” he said.
With so many of the squad having already played sevens for the United States, the Eagles are confident their athleticism will give them an edge over other teams.
“It will help, without a doubt,” Hawley said. “The pace of the game in sevens is a lot quicker, and taking that into 15s has definitely helped us progress, and obviously helped with tackling one on one.”
But wiser heads may prevail. At the age of 31, Emerick is one of the most experienced players in the squad and said the Eagles would not be attacking from their own in-goal area like a sevens team.
“It’s going to pay dividends if we get some line breaks and broken field play, but there is definitely a lot more structure that we will be sticking to in the 15s game,” he said.
USA meet Ireland in a Pool C match at Stadium Taranaki in New Plymouth on 11 September, before they clash with Russia (15 September), Australia (23 September) and Italy (27 September).