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About 7s Special Introduction Seven and Fifteens Basic guide
History of Sevens Melrose and Middlesex Hong Kong Taupiri
7s in USA Seven Styles Attack Deffense
Kickoffs and DropOuts Set Scrums Lineouts Set Plays
Kicking Drills for Sevens Three-week practice A 7s program
Fitness & Training Fitness Testing Selection Analyisis Using Videotape
Americanizing Sevens Bibliography Acknowledgements Profile

Americanizing Sevens:including a proposal for "Match-Play Sevens"

A new race dominating previous ones and grander far, with new contests,

New politics, new literatures and religions, new inventions and arts.

-- Walt Whitman, "Starting from Paumanock"

The condescending English attitude summed up in the phrase that I have heard all too many times from all too many people -- "Sevens is a pleasant divertissement to be indulged in at the beginning and the end of each season" -- notwithstanding, sevens is a game that can transcend the barriers this stereotype imposes on it if only enough people work hard at it. With less "tradition" to bind us to the past, we Americans could well be the people to lead the way.

One way we can bring an American presence to sevens is by playing the game in a way that emphasizes American skills.

More radically, and potentially much more significantly, however, we can provide an alternative to the format that has restricted sevens to be played only within a multi-team tournament environment.


By utilizing our home-grown handling skills (basketball, football, baseball), and not being bound to what generations of expatriates have taught us is a "rugby pass," Americans have already made their mark on the game of sevens.

At a New Zealand tournament in which the American invitational side Atlantis competed, Auckland selector Maurice Trapp paid the team the ultimate compliment when he commented that its handling was better than that of top New Zealand sides.

Furthermore, fans everywhere outside North America ooh and aah at our overhand football passes. Although their initial reaction may be one of surprise at the spectacular nature of the passes, suddenly they realize that not only do they look good, but also, when executed correctly they work as well.

Basketball also provides a variety of passes that lend themselves to rugby -- both sevens and fifteens -- especially overhead passes that get by an opponent that could stop a traditional pass.

Compared to the rest of the world, the US has a lot of big players. Using these players at the international level is an advantage to us at ball-winning situations in the air, especially kickoffs and lineouts, and also allows us to play a power-style of sevens against opponents that are smaller and not as strong.


Our greatest contribution to the game of rugby sevens, however, could well be using the culture of American sports to develop a format of sevens in which two teams can play a "full length" competition, and not limit the game to a multi- team tournament environment.

I have used the term "match-play sevens" to refer to this format. Prior to listing the rules for this competition, I will describe two precursors, "60-minute sevens" and a unique dual sevens competition held to demonstrate the game at a small-town American festival.

"Sixty minute sevens."

My first attempt to devise a "dual meet" version of sevens was described in Rugby in September 1986 (basically it was an hour-long game that featured 16-man rosters and limited substitution).

At least one real game has been played to date using that format; it took place in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 21, 1988, and was described by organizer Don "Harpo" D'Andria in a subsequent issue of Rugby.

In the 60 minutes of playing time, 22 tries were scored in an exciting 66-42 game (a very close 44-38 going into the fourth quarter), and reports from players were very positive.

Bethlehem's Chevrolet Celtic Classic.

This event provides a real-life example of what can be done with the game of sevens in an effort to promote rugby -- and more to the point of this chapter, what can be done to promote rugby in the context of the tradition of US sports.

My home town of Bethlehem (PA) is in the tourism business, and in 1986 plans were begun to put together a 1988 festival to celebrate the music, crafts, and sports of the Celtic peoples (especially those of Scotland, Ireland and Wales).

I was asked to put together a rugby event that would be a Thursday night "curtain raiser" for the weekend event.

Gaging the potential community response to the unknown game of rugby, I realized that sevens was the only variety that would "sell" (another consideration was the fact that, having originated in Scotland, sevens can legitimately be called the Celtic variety of our game).

Provided a generous budget by the event sponsors, the two invited teams were the "American All-Stars," a combined Atlantis/Cougar VII whose nine members included eight Eagles, and the Saltires, a well known multi-national invitational side composed mostly of top Scottish players. The event took place on October 4, 1988.

As the curtain raiser for the feature match, Bethlehem played a sevens match vs.. Philadelphia/Whitemarsh.

This was the evening's schedule:

6:45 PM. Bethlehem's Freedom High School band performs and the four teams are introduced, followed by Freedom's rendition of God Save the Queen and the Star Spangled Banner.

7:00 PM. In a preliminary match, Bethlehem plays Philadelphia/Whitemarsh. Both teams are allowed to use up to 12 players, and free substitution is allowed after each try and at the end of each 7-minute quarter. A three minute half-time is the only break in the action.

The result: an exciting 34-30 victory for Bethlehem in a game not decided until the last minute.

7:40 PM. Bethlehem's Liberty High School band performs.

8:00 PM. The American All-Stars vs.. Saltires game begins. The initial plan had been to play four 10-minute quarters, but Saltire captain Hugh McHardy came up with a better alternative. Since sevens games can often become blowouts once one team has scored a quick three or four tries, a big first half could doom the second half to boredom. His suggestion: play two separate 20-minute games, scoring each separately. If each team were to win one game, a sudden-death overtime would determine the match winner. We accepted his suggestion.

Each squad consisted of nine players, and substitution was allowed at each try and at the intermissions.

The result: the All-Stars got off to a dynamite start and demolished the Saltires 34-0 in the first game.

The half-time lasted 10-15 minutes, and featured some of what was to follow in the festival proper. Scottish dancers were followed by a demonstration of one of the highlights of the Highland games: the caber toss, performed by national champion Highland athlete Paul Ferency.

In the second game, the lead see-sawed back and forth, with the Saltires tying the game 24-24 on a last second try. A conversion would have sent the match into sudden death, but it wasn't to happen, and the American All-Stars won the match with one win and a tie.

If we had not used the two game format, the second 20 minutes would have been an unimportant part of a 58-24 rout.

Although unusually cold weather kept the crowd below 2000 people, about half what had been hoped for, crowd response was remarkable, and everyone -- 90% of whom had never seen a rugby game before -- was shouting themselves hoarse during particularly exciting situations: which were typically Americans Barry Williams and Kevin Higgins showing their stuff.

The success of this event indicates what can be done if the imagination, desire and dedication is there; there is no question that the vehicle of success -- seven-a-side rugby -- is out there for us to exploit.

Match Play Sevens:A Proposal, with Rules of the Game

The concept of a dual sevens meet event has proven that it can lend itself to a successful event.

There is no reason a sevens game can't last an hour or more; all that needs to be done is to allow more than seven people on the roster and incorporate liberal substitution: heresy, perhaps, to rugby traditionalists, but certainly not a foreign concept to American sports fans or participants.

The format described below is based on the experiences mentioned above as well as theoretical considerations to be discussed below.

Rules of the Event

  1. 12 players per squad. (This could vary, but based on the universal desire of players to get a lot of playing time, combined with an analysis of playing time based on the Scottish Border sevens format discussed below, 12 seems a very workable number.)

  2. Two 30-minute games. If each team wins one game, or if both games are tied, the match is decided in overtime (see below).

    Each game consists of two 15 minute halves, with a two minute half time. Each half consists of two 7 1/2 minute quarters with a one minute break.

    Teams change sides at half time of each game and at the start of the second game.

    There is a five minute break between games.

    Overtime: a 3-minute rest after the second game is followed by two 3-minute periods with a change of ends; if there is still a tie, sudden death decides the match).

  3. Liberal substitution. Substitution is allowed after every score and at each break. Anyone that comes off for injury at a time other than these breaks cannot return until the beginning of the next quarter.

    To avoid the use of specialist kickers, the person that kicks the conversion must have been on the field when the try was scored (although a replacement may come on immediately after the kick is taken).


Both the length of the match and the number of players per squad are based on explainable criteria, outlined in the following paragraphs.

Length. It hardly seems worth participating in, or attending, an athletic event that lasts for less than an hour (it is this fact that has forced the tournament structure on sevens, where games only last 14-20 minutes -- and, given the high work rate, can't last much longer without substitutions).

The proposal described above aims to cover a 90 minute time period. The playing time (60 minutes) plus breaks adds up to 77 minutes; add a possible overtime and a couple of timeouts for minor injury, etc., and a 90-minute time slot seems eminently manageable.

Squad size. With respect to the number of players needed to sustain a high work rate over the time frame I've discussed, I've chosen to look at the Scottish Borders' sevens tournaments as a basis for comparison.

In the Borders' tournament, 16 teams compete in pure single elimination format, in games of 7 1/2 minute halves with no halftimes. No substitutions are allowed within, or between, games, except for injury.

There is no time in between games, with the exception of the final match, which takes place 15 minutes after the conclusion of the second semifinal (based on history and the schedule, matches actually tend to be about 18 minutes apart). The final match is 20 minutes long.

Take the case of the team that plays in the last game of the opening round and makes it to the finals. Excluding injury time, all seven players on that team play:

  • in all 4 games, 65 min. in 160 min. of real time,

  • in the last 3, 50 min. in 85 min. of real time,

  • in the last 2, 35 min. in 50 min. of real time,

  • 20 minutes in the final match.

With the proposed format above, in 77 minutes of real time, if all 12 players play equally, they will each have played 35 minutes. (10-man = 50)

Since there are players that we will want to play more frequently than others, and given the chance of injury, some players will play more. Based on the high work rate required in sevens, it will be very difficult for anyone to be able to play the full 60 minutes at anywhere near a work rate approaching that possible in a 14-minute game.

There will be, no doubt, those that try.

(With a squad size of 10, if everyone plays equally, each player will play exactly 50 minutes, or close to the work rate at the Borders tournaments. But given the difficulty of sharing the work load equally, and the possibility of an injury [or more], 10 seems to low a figure.)

The above explanation is merely an attempt to rationalize the rules above; a few sample games on the field will tell just how realistic they are.

Additional observations

Since there is a try roughly every 3 minutes in a sevens game, there will be lots of substitutions, and lots more on-the-day coaching decisions than one normally sees in rugby. Again, however, this is more akin to typical American sports.

Match play sevens would be perfect for a 90-minute TV production: time for intros, interviews, commercials, etc..

Other possibilities:

The rules given above describe one concrete proposal for a dual meet format. Games and their rules can take many forms, of course. Some examples of other possibilities --

  • Best of five games. One possibility would be to play 15-minute games, with a 12-man squad, as above; another might include 20 minute halves and incorporate 15 players per squad. In the first case, though, a three-game sweep would encompass less than an hour; in the latter, a five-game series would exceed two hours.

  • Five tries wins. Consider how we normally play matches at practices: "Let's play 5 tries wins," for example, and build on that principle.

  • 20 points wins. Suppose a match was the best of five games (or three, whatever), but that each game was ended when one team scored 20 points. Think about it: there are lots of interesting ramifications (the re-introduction of the penalty kick as a strategic weapon in sevens, for example? [18+3=21]) that you might dwell upon, if such a possibility interests you.

    The above, of course, include only a fraction of all the possibilities; the idea is to come up with a game that's fun to play, suitable for a two-team competition, and that takes a length of time that's suitable both for the participants, spectators and a potential TV audience.


The time is right to inject some American ingenuity into sevens; there is no question but that it can make the game better. There can also be no question that sevens holds far greater promise of attracting an American public than fifteens; why not try to do it?

For my part, I hope during succeeding summers to organize several competitions based on "match-play sevens," along the lines of the rules described above -- either as a two-team competition or a four team tournament spaced over two days.

I welcome all other experiments and solicit reports as to their merit.

Who knows, maybe someday we'll have a summer league structure in sevens, utilizing a format similar to one of those described above. It would be a great accomplishment.

Above all, I would urge us to be imaginative: let's not be limited by what we hear from people with only tradition to fall back on.

The English have taught us many things, but one has only to look back at soccer 40 years ago to see what happened to the "we invented it here, we're superior" attitude England showed to the world: they started getting beat by unlikely people.

(The identity of the team that upset England in the 1950 Olympics is left as an exercise for the reader.)

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