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This condensed version of rugby packs the punch with fewer players, shorter play time, and just as much aggression. The seven players must be prepared to tackle, ruck, and maul—all with no more than a mouth guard. Fans of traditional rugby will find themselves enthralled by this fast-paced and grueling take on the classic Scottish sport.
- Tackle, ruck, and maul
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If you've ever seen a soccer or football game, you have a solid foundation for understanding rugby sevens. The game is actually quite simple: two teams compete on a field to gain possession of a ball and score points by carrying the ball over a goal line (known as the “try line”) or kicking it through a set of goal posts. The team that scores the most points wins.
What’s the difference between rugby sevens and traditional rugby union?
Traditional rugby union features two teams of 15 players, and the game is divided into two halves of 40 minutes. Rugby sevens, appropriately enough, features seven players on each side. The game is divided into two halves of seven minutes each during pool stages of the tournament. However, during the finals, each half lasts for 10 minutes. Rugby sevens is played on the same field as traditional rugby union—a grass surface measuring up to 100 meters by 70 meters. As such, rugby sevens is a high-intensity sport that requires strength, stamina, speed, and agility.
Play action is continuous, only stopping when someone scores, the ball goes out of bounds (“out of touch”), or a rule is broken. Unlike most other sports, in which players are assigned specific ball-handling tasks, every rugby player on the field may pick up the ball and run, pass, or kick at any time. Everyone plays both offense and defense, though the three forwards are generally charged with gaining possession of the ball and either advancing it or passing it to the four backs. Rugby is a full contact sport, though the players wear virtually no protective gear; padded clothing is not allowed aside from pre-approved headgear. Players generally wear a rugby jersey, shorts, cleats, and a mouth guard.
"It's the same size pitch, all the same rules. [Rugby sevens] is all the best parts of rugby, all the most exciting and visual aspects, in a condensed environment."
– Madison Hughes, captain, USA Men's Eagles Sevens
Each game half starts with a kick off. A player drop-kicks the ball from center field toward the opposing team. The non-kicking team must start 10 meters away from the ball when it is kicked, and the ball must travel at least 10 meters toward the non-kicking team's goal line before hitting the ground.
Visualize an imaginary line running across the field through the ball; as the ball moves up and down the field, the imaginary line requires that each teams' players stay on their side of the line. So players may carry or kick the ball forward, but they must pass it laterally or backward. Any player who is closer to the opposing side's goal line than the ball carrier—anyone on the wrong side of the imaginary line—is offsides; he/she may not participate in game play until he/she returns onside.
Tackle, ruck, and maul
The tackle, ruck, and maul are the most common forms of contact between players.
The player holding the ball is eligible to be tackled. If an opposing player tackles the ball carrier, then the ball carrier must immediately release the ball, the tackler must release the ball carrier, and both must roll away from the ball. This keeps continuous game play going, as other players may now enter the fray and contest for the ball.
When the ball is on the ground and one or more players are close to it, the players may form a pile of bodies known as a ruck. The players in the ruck may not handle the ball; instead, they use their feet to move the ball to the outside of the pack, where it can be picked up.
When the ball carrier is in the arms of an opposing player, a member of the ball carrier's team may hold on to the pair, creating a maul. More players may latch on as well, creating a flurry of bound players. The ball-carrying team may use brute force to push the pack toward the goal line. They may also pass the ball backward between players in the maul to a player who is not in the maul, or a ball carrier can exit the maul and run with it.
If the referee blows the whistle to stop play after a penalty, open play can only resume once the players have formed a scrum. The scrum is one of the more visually unique aspects of a rugby game: The forwards bend low, bind together using their arms, and get head to head with the opposing team's forwards (who are in an identical formation). The team that did not cause a penalty is awarded the ball. As in a ruck, the players use their feet to push the ball to the back of their own scrum, where a player can pick it up.
The scrum concentrates the forwards on one point of the field, allowing the backs to plan an attack using the rest of the field.
"If I was to describe this team and its character, it would be courageous and brave. Each day we put our hearts and our souls out on the field for each other."
– Alev Kelter, USA Women's Eagles
If the ball goes out of bounds, open play resumes with a lineout. Each teams' forwards form lines parallel to one another and a player throws the ball between them. The throw is high, and the best jumper from each team jumps up to catch the ball. The jumper is supported by teammates, who help guide their jump and add height.
There are four ways to score points in rugby:
- Try: Five points
A player scores a try when he/she carries the ball over the opponent's goal line and pushes it to the ground.
- Conversion: Two points
Within 40 seconds of scoring a try, the scoring team may attempt to add two additional points by drop-kicking the ball over the crossbar and through the goal posts. (American football fans are familiar with two-point conversions.)
- Penalty: Three points
If a team draws a penalty, the opposing team may choose to kick a goal.
- Drop goal: Three points
During open play, a player may drop the ball to the ground and kick it on the half-volley.
The sport of rugby originated in 1823 at the Rugby School in England. Legend has it that a student picked up the ball during a soccer match and ran with it—and rugby was born! Rugby sevens was devised about 60 years later in Melrose, Scotland; the first rugby sevens tournament was held in Melrose in 1883.
"I'm hoping that rugby continues to grow in this country. The sport is for everyone, and hopefully rugby will help bring that to the world like the [USA] Women's Soccer Team has."
– Kate Zackary, USA Women's Eagles Sevens
Pitch: The field on which rugby is played
Side: A rugby team
Knock-on: A penalty in which a player mishandles a ball and causes it to travel forward
Into touch: Out of bounds
Source: USA Rugby and World Rugby