Las Vegas Sun

July 31, 2014

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Weekend rugby tourney in a league of its own

With a wedding, a team of Elvis look-alikes and a final that starts at midnight, the annual Las Vegas Midnight Sevens rugby tournament is one of the nation’s more unique sporting events.

“It draws out all kinds of different people,” said Las Vegas Blackjack rugby club president Rob Cornelius. “Every year there’s a different twist, like a team of guys showing up dressed up as women. And there’s always a team that dresses like Elvis.”

The 2009 competition kicks off Saturday, with 60 teams converging on the Silver Bowl Sports Complex and Park to play more than 100 games of seven-aside rugby.

Sevens rugby is a variant of rugby that reduces the number of players on a team from 15 to seven and condenses the time limit from 80 minutes to 14 minutes.

But at the Midnight Sevens the rules are further modified to give the game a Vegas touch.

“The tie-breaker is a roll of the dice,” Cornelius said. “High dice win. If you tie on the dice you go on to a hand of blackjack.”

The competition is split into three divisions: the Aces, which is the men’s competitive division; the Kings, which is the men’s social division; and the Queens, which is the women’s division.

Las Vegas will be represented by five teams: two from the Blackjacks rugby club, one from the Sin City Irish rugby club, one from the UNLV rugby club and one from the Las Vegas Slots women’s rugby team.

The tournament started more than 20 years ago and served as the Blackjacks’ annual fundraiser, but it has evolved into its own entity.

“[The Midnight Sevens] is really done to keep up the reputation of the tournament and to create a rugby atmosphere which is different than a lot of other sports,” Cornelius said.

The festive spirit of the competition has inspired one rugby-playing couple to have their wedding during Saturday’s one-day tournament, which starts at 4 p.m.

“We were contacted through the groom, and he just said they wanted to come to Vegas and they both play rugby,” Cornelius said. “They’re going to have their reception at the tournament, play rugby, watch rugby and get married.”

However, the jovial atmosphere is just the backdrop to what is one of the most competitive rugby tournaments in North America.

Teams in the Aces division are kicking off the inaugural USA Sevens Cup Series -- a series of five tournaments whose winners go on to play in the USA Sevens International Rugby Tournament for a grand prize of $10,000.

“By putting money into this we hope that the quality of competition becomes good enough for TV,” said Ray Peterson, managing director of USA Sevens.

However, improving the competitiveness of the sport is not the sole reason for the inception of the Sevens Cup Series.

“In October, there’s an Olympic vote on whether to include rugby sevens as an Olympic sport,” Peterson said.

The International Olympic Committee is considering seven sports for two open program slots at the 2016 games.

“Right now rugby flies pretty low under the radar in America, but it’s the third-biggest sport in the world,” Peterson said.

“If we become an Olympic event, there’s going to be a spotlight on us and people are going to have an appetite for understanding what the sport is. And in order to do that, we have to show them the sport.”

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