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April 19, 2014

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Rugby tournament embracing Las Vegas as new home

Tournament director says he wants to introduce area to the sport

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SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A rugby player fights for ground in last year’s USA Sevens World Series in San Diego. The tournament, which features an international field of 16 countries, will be held at Sam Boyd Stadium this year on Feb. 13 and 14.

Beyond The Sun

From the first time Dan Lyle touched a rugby ball, he knew he was in love with the sport.

Lyle, now the director of the USA Sevens rugby tournament, took up the sport as a 23-year old in 1993 to stay in shape between stints on the Washington Redskins' practice squad. Less than a year later, he was traveling the world as a member of the United States national team.

"I definitely got bit by the rugby bug right away," Lyle said. "I said, 'Hey, this is cool. This me.' It was every sport that I had played rolled into one — it was basketball, it was soccer, it was football, it was the running of track and the discipline of swimming."

Lyle hopes Las Vegas residents have similar reactions Feb. 13 and 14 when the USA Sevens World Series comes to Sam Boyd Stadium.

It will mark the event's first year in Las Vegas, after spending the previous three in San Diego. Lyle anticipates it will be far from the last.

"We're trying to create an annual event where people think of it as a rugby week," he said.

Lyle is quick to point out the merits of the "sevens" game, in contrast to the traditional "fifteens" style of rugby, as why the sport has a chance to infiltrate the community beyond a niche market.

It's called sevens because each team has seven players on the field at a time with seven-minute halves. An entire match lasts 14 minutes and features as much scoring as an 80-minute fifteens game.

"It's fast-paced with a lot of action, a lot of passes and a lot of scoring with some tackles and physicality thrown into the middle of it," Lyle said. "I like to call it fast-break basketball or two-minute drill football. Everyone is moving all the time quickly."

The tournament includes 16 countries and 44 matches. And Lyle said the teams had no shortage of top-notch talent.

"It's very elite athletes," said Catherine Levy, USA Sevens spokesperson. "It's not necessarily as important to be a huge, 300-pound football-player kind of guy as it is to have speed."

To connect with the community, Lyle and the USA Sevens team have set up 14 rugby clinics at local schools. They hope to introduce the sport to around 1,500 youngsters in the Clark County area.

As for the older crowd, Lyle said a key point would be clearing up misconceptions about rugby players.

"We've got to get over some of those stereotypes we've drummed into ourselves about rugby — that there's too many injuries and it's not something where you want your daughter dating a rugby guy," Lyle said.

The tournament is expected to draw a large contingent of both national and international rugby enthusiasts. Lyle estimated that 75 percent of the crowd would be fans familiar with the game.

The other quarter will be first-time attendees, predominantly from Southern Nevada. Those are the people Lyle knows will be the key to long-term success in Las Vegas.

"Once people see it, touch it and get involved with it, that gives us confidence," Lyle said. "It always has."

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