Why Rugby Sevens is the Sport For You

It has been exactly 92 years since rugby was last competed at an Olympic Games. With the addition of rugby sevens to the 2016 Rio Games it will be shown to a wide of array of audiences who will likely be unfamiliar with the sport. Many know what the sport of rugby is but are not aware of the rules or the differences between sevens and the more traditional format of “fifteens.” By the end of this article you will hopefully have a better understanding of what rugby sevens is, and why it is the sport that you should not miss a minute of at this Olympics.

USA captain Madison Hughes

What is rugby sevens and why should I care?

The easy explanation of rugby is that it is football without pads. The goal of rugby is to attempt to score a “try” by moving the ball downfield only passing laterally or kicking the ball forward. Rugby is typically contested with fifteen players per team but sevens (here comes the bombshell) is with only seven players per side. Sevens matches consist of two seven-minute halves with a halftime of only a couple minutes. With only 14 totals players on the field, this means that there is a lot of space to run. Rugby sevens combines the hard-hitting action of American football, the fast-paced play of basketball, the movement of soccer, and the speed of track and field. There is something for everyone!

During Play

Play rarely comes to stop, only pausing for scrums and out-of-bounds plays meaning you are on the edge of your seat the entire game. Not only is there constant action, but scoring happens much more frequently than in fifteens. During play, the player with the ball can run until they either pass the ball off or are tackled by an opponent. Once on the ground, the tackler(s) must release the runner and the runner must release the ball (ideally to a teammate) who will continue to try and advance the ball down the field. After a score there is a kickoff taken by the scoring team. Similar to football, the kickoff can be recovered by the kicking team, but it must travel a certain distance before the kicking team can recover. Due to the relatively short halves, play does not end when the clock hits zero. Play continues until there is a dead ball (score, out of bounds, etc.), meaning the game is not over until then. Teams will often push to score in this extra time of the first half to give them some more cushion or to cut their opponent’s lead.

Rugby terminology

We are not going to dive into the real nitty-gritty of the rules of rugby but will cover the basic words to know when watching matches on television.

  • Try: A try is the main way to score points in rugby. It is worth five points and is scored when a player places the ball down with pressure in the end zone. The pressure part is important because it is not like football where it is a touchdown once you cross the goal line.
  • Conversion Kick: Taken immediately after a try and perpendicular (90 degree angle) from where the try was scored. The perpendicular part is important and why players will try to score the ball as centrally as they can to provide for an easier angle on the kick. A conversion kick must also be a drop kick in sevens.
  • Drop Goal: A kick scored either from a penalty or in open play, it is worth three points and must be scored by drop kick. These types of scores are very rare in sevens.
  • Touchline: the out-of-bounds lines
  • Lineout: Used to restart play after a ball goes out of bounds. Both teams lineup across from each other and the ball is thrown in from the touchline, down the middle where a player is lifted up to try and grab the ball. This is best explained visually:
The team throwing in has an advantage as they know where the ball is going
  • Knock-On: A knock on occurs when a player drops, fumbles, or uses their hand to knock the ball forward during play. This is illegal and the other team is awarded the ball in a scrum.
  • Scrum: Used to restart play after a knock-on or forward pass. Three players on each team bind together and then push against each other to try and win the ball that is rolled down the middle.
Teams set just before they “bind” for the scrum

Meet Team USA!

There is no debate that sports are infinitely more interesting when you know what you are watching or have a rooting interest in a team or it’s players. In this section we will highlight some players on Team USA that will hope to win a medal in Rio.

O Captain! My Captain! 🇺🇸

Madison Hughes- The captain of Team USA and the all-time sevens scoring leader for the Eagles, Hughes will look to lead the US deep into the tourney. The 23-year-old Dartmouth grad is not only a prominent member on Team USA, he is perhaps one of the best young players in the world. He lead the Sevens World Series in total points and conversions and helped the US finish sixth in the ten-part series. Hughes handles all kicking duties for the Eagles as well and will be a key cog in the attack.

Perry Baker- Carlin Isles may have the reputation as the “fastest man in rugby,” but Perry Baker is the speedster to watch for Team USA. Baker finished fifth in points scored and second in tries during the HSBC World Series. Baker has insane speed and he uses it to burn opposing defenses during games. This is just a brief video of the blazing speed that Baker possesses:

Baker will need to have a big impact if the Americans will hope to medal in these Olympics.

Danny Barrett- Besides looking like a rough-and-tumble lumberjack caveman, Barrett does a lot of the dirty work for Team USA. His contributions will not always show up on the stat sheets but when you see him bloodied and beaten for the red, white, and blue you will understand his importance. Barrett is what you would get if you crossed Beast Mode with hard-hitting safety Kam Chancellor. Just look at him go!

I assume trying to bring down Danny Barrett is like tying to tackle a bowling ball, which I can only imagine is unpleasant. Barrett embodies the spirit of American grit and that will be on full display at the Olympics.

The medal favorites

The favorites for the gold in Rio will likely be between New Zealand, South Africa, and Fiji. The US could have an outside shot at a medal but they will need to clean-up their play if they hope to make that dream a reality. New Zealand have been the dominant team in rugby for awhile now and will not be an easy out in Rio. South Africa finished second in the Sevens World Series, just ahead of New Zealand. In the World Series, Seabelo Senatla of South Africa lead all players in tries by a hefty margin, scoring 66 tries compared to Perry Baker’s forty-eight. The favorite for gold has to be Fiji, who will look to earn their first ever Olympic medal of any kind in any sport. Fiji finished first in the Sevens World Series, winning three of the ten legs, and finishing second in two more. Fiji led all teams in scoring, tries, and conversions and second in tackles. Even if Fiji do not win gold they should still be able to medal.


Olympic rugby gets underway today at 12 PM EST when the US women face off against Fiji on NBCSN. The women’s quarterfinals will be on Sunday and the semifinals and medal games will be on Monday afternoon. The men start pool play on Tuesday and will follow a similar schedule, playing their medal games on Thursday evening. All the matches will be shown on NBC’s family of networks, primarily NBCSN, CNBC, and USA Network.

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