U.S. wins shield in Vegas

The U.S.A. Eagle has won the Shield at the Sevens tournament in Las Vegas.

Beating Japan 19-12 in the final marks the USA’s second Shield victory in a row, after their win in Wellington. The Vegas trounament saw the Eagles with two wins over Japan and one over Uruguay. They sustained tough losses against Canada, South Africa, and Samoa.

For all the results from the IRB Sevens tournament in Las Vegas, check here.

A big TV debut for USA Sevens

When the IRB Sevens tournament moves to Las Vegas this weekend, it will be a coming-out party of sorts for Rugby in the United States.

Now that the American Football season is over with last week’s Super Bowl, the NBC network has decided to program about 15 hours of live Rugby. A first. A big first.

Matt Hawkins during a warmup game against Argentina, in Wellington.

Matt Hawkins during a warmup game against Argentina, in Wellington.

All of the Eagles Rugby World Cup games will also be broadcast back home.  The U.S. Sevens team, during their recent visit to Wellington, were all buzzing about what this unprecedented TV exposure could mean for the sport.

“It’s huge for us,” said Captain Matt Hawkins. “It really gets our name out there.  It creates awareness for Rugby.”

Of course, the players also know that it will be important for them to perform well.  Their second-day performance in Wellington, when they beat both Canada and France to win the shield, will have given them a good boost.  Everyone involved with U.S. Rugby is hoping the paly will do the same for NBC’s ratings.  Building a buzz around the sport is the quickest way to bring new talent to the game.

Hawkins: Sevens is going to be huge

USA Sevens Captain Matt Hawkins talks about how he came to the States from his native South Africa and why he thinks the addition of Sevens Rugby to the Olympics could spawn a huge interest in the sport in the United States. He recently spoke to the U.S. Embassy at the team’s Evans Bay training ground before the Wellington Sevens tournament.

Fastest-growing sport in the U.S.? Rugby

Interesting read here in The Economist magazine. Long a leader in spotting trends, The Economist is picking up on some movement in the American sporting landscape.

USA wins shield in Wellington

Photo by IRB.

USA wins shield. Photo by IRB.

After a rough start to the first day – a 21-12 loss to England and 36-5 thrashing by Wales – the U.S. Eagles did enough in the last game to qualify for a Bowl quarterfinal appearance. In that game, the Eagles broke away from a plucky Cook Island team to win 19-14.

Day Two did not begin well, with the U.S. falling to Scotland and being dropped to the Shield contest – and a date against their arch-rival Canada. But the Eagles looked like they were finally gelling, beating Canada and then France in the final of the Shield competition.

The silverware should give the Eagles some good confidence as they head to the Los Vegas Sevens and a potentially massive NBC TV audience, something that has never before happened. The Eagles acquitted themselves well in Wellington and were popular with the fans.

USA with a chance in Welly?

Some pre-tournament analysis about the USA Eagle’s chances at the Wellington Sevens tournament from our friend Alex Goff at Rugby Magazine here.

Everybody loves a parade

Thousands of Wellingtonians came out to cheer on the participants of the IRB Sevens tournament. The U.S. Eagle team was serenaded not only by their own Beyonce-tribute cheerleaders, but also by a group of Welsh supporters from New Zealand who sang the Stars and Stripes. Yeah, it was that kind of day.

The lunch-time parade wound its way through the Central Business District as thousands of office workers watched on, cheered and applauded.

The 12-man U.S. team was on a float that boasted a Statue of Liberty. The English team was escorted by a spooky person dressed up as the Queen who drove along in an old London cab waving regally. The New Zealanders were fronted by a Waka on wheels – a traditional Maori canoe (except for the wheels) – with a dozen rowers. There was a random Elvis impersonator. Of course there was an Elvis impersonator.

A Waka on wheels.

A Waka on wheels.

The cheerleaders for each team had been selected through a popular-vote competition. At the parade they were again vying for votes – singing or chanting the number for people to text with their support. The USA Single Ladies were even handing out business cards, vowing to “get the whole stadium off their seats and getting down with our crew!” Them’s fighting words.

The only brief flutter of tension arose when the Braveheart-bedecked Scottish entourage were hailed as being from Wales. They didn’t like that.

Braveheart-bedecked Scottish supporters.

Braveheart-bedecked Scottish supporters.

Though rain had threatened all morning, the parade and the thousands of spectators were treated to glorious sunshine. The martial, rhythmic sounds of drums and bagpipes swirled in the air. Gymnasts and dancers twirled. The crowd, lined three deep, cheered as the teams threw candy, beads and trinkets. Every team was applauded, every fan, it seemed – even the ones on balconies – was waved at.

On board the USA float at the Wellington Sevens street parade.

On board the USA float at the Wellington Sevens street parade.

The celebration of so many cultures, with good-natured energy, was just the warm-up act. The lunch-time crowd were all in their civilian clobber. Tomorrow they bust out the costumes.

By Adrian Pratt, U.S. Embassy, Wellington

To view more photos visit the U.S. Embassy’s FlickR page.

Wigging out in Wellington

“What are you going as?” is the first question out of people’s mouth these days in Wellington as the IRB Sevens tournament comes to town.

I’m apparently meeting two Troy Polamalus – friends from the Pacific islands dressing up as the legendary Pittsburgh Steeler strong safety – and an Uncle Sam.

The annual tournament – played here since 1999 – is the town’s excuse to go a little wild. More than 30,000 people come to Wellington for the tournament and even those without tickets head downtown in costume to let their hair down – or to don a wig.

“Wellington, if I had to describe it to anyone that didn’t know, I would explain it as if there’s a rock concert going on and all of a sudden someone decides to play a game of Rugby,” said U.S. captain Matt Hawkins. “It’s awesome. There’s no vibe like Wellington. The city’s awesome. The people are awesome.”

The two-day tournament features teams from 16 countries. The U.S. first faces England on Feb. 4, the first of their three games that day. Their tournament involvement begins with a multi-nation parade through the streets of Wellington.

The U.S. Eagle has had some success in Wellington, having gone to the cup twice and, last year, winning the shield. They’ve had big upset wins over Fiji, England and Samoa – and are hoping for more of the same.

“Wellington is almost as good as being home,” said U.S. Coach Al Caravelli. “So I like our second home here in Wellington.”

The Rugby is important, but so is the atmosphere. “Wellington really comes to life this time of the year,” said Roland Suniula.”

“We miss seing our Borat costume,” chimed in his brother, and fellow Eagle, Shalom.

Swimwear. Anyone who’s seen the Borat movie will know what that means. The Wellington Sevens rules describing permissible costumes no longer allow that type of attire. Shalom may be the only person sad about that. Then again, maybe not.

Adrian Pratt, U.S. Embassy, Wellington

From NFL Gridiron to U.S.A. Rugby Sevens

Until July, Miles Craigwell had never touched a Rugby ball. Yes, July of 2010. Now he’s playing sevens for the U.S.A. Eagle.

Cut by the Miami Dolphins and faced with the choice of being a practise football player, Craigwell headed back to his native Boston. At just 24, Craigwell, who’d been a stellar college football player in the Ivy League at Brown University, was left to contemplate his future.

Miles Craigwell runs past an Argentine player during a warm-up game before the Wellington Sevens in February 2011.

Miles Craigwell runs past an Argentine player during a warm-up game before the Wellington Sevens in February 2011.

Back home something coincidental happened. You might even call it fate.

“I was sitting in a diner just eating,” Craigwell said. “And I turned to look at the TV and the Collegiate Sevens on NBC were playing and I looked and I saw the athleticism out there, the pace of the game … and I was just like this is what I want to play.”

He was wowed.

He called his agent and told him to find whomever he needed to speak to. To make it happen. Soon he was in touch with U.S. Sevens coach Al Caravelli and was learning the basics of Rugby.

Within a couple of months he’d been called to duty for the national team and was heading abroad to play in the Dubai IRB Sevens tournament.

Craigwell and the other American players believe that, with Sevens Rugby becoming an Olympic event in 2016, there could be more crossover between American Football and Rugby. NBC has also begun scheduling Rugby programming more often – including live broadcasting of all the U.S. games for the Rugby World Cup this year.

“It’s really up and coming with the Olympics coming up,” Craigwell said. “The national broadcasting of NBC should market the sport very well and American athletes and little kids hopefully will be inspired to play Rugby and love the sport as much as I do.”

His captain, Matt Hawkins, agrees, saying Rugby in the States is “exploding.”

Miles makes a dummy pass during a warm up game before the Wellington Sevens in February, 2011.

Miles makes a dummy pass during a warm up game before the Wellington Sevens in February, 2011.

They’re seeing signs of a groundswell everywhere they go. At a recent Olympic Sevens tournament in California, almost 600 kids showed up. The players found themselves in an unfamiliar limelight, signing autographs and chatting with their fans.

Craigwell, who bubbles with good-humored enthusiasm, says he loves the athleticism of his newly adopted game. While American Football requires explosive bursts of energy in four-second segments, a Sevens game is 14 minutes of exhausting action.

He likes that.

He also likes the places Rugby is taking him. He looked around appreciatively at the team’s Evans Bay training grounds in Wellington. “Now I’m in New Zealand,” he said. “It’s surreal.”

He’s already played tournaments in Dubai and South Africa and he hopes, “God willing,” that his body will last the tribulations of Rugby long enough to get him to Rio de Janiero for the 2016 Summer Olympics. To help his country bring a medal home. After all, the U.S. are the defending Olympic Rugby champions, bringing home the gold medal for 15-man Rugby in 1920 and 1924, the last time Rugby was part of the Olympics.

Adrian Pratt, US Embassy, Wellington

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