Nearly 100,000 rugby fans and players are expected in Las Vegas this weekend for the sport’s biggest North American celebration.
The marquee event is the USA Sevens tournament that attracts top teams and fans from more than a dozen countries. Teams compete with seven players per squad, a stripped-down version of the sport, which normally fields 15 players a side.
Also this weekend is the Las Vegas Invitational, a related tournament for youth and amateur squads.
USA Sevens has played at UNLV’s Sam Boyd Stadium for a decade, but this year marks the tournament’s last year in Las Vegas.
Sportswriter Patrick Johnston, who covers rugby for The Province newspaper in Vancouver, British Columbia, broke the news about the tournament’s departure.
He told State of Nevada that concerns over the quality of the field were one of the primary reasons for the change.
“It is not the only reason but after every event teams and players are asked to rate the accommodations, the medical setup, the playing setup – those sorts of things – and while the fan experience was good and the players always liked being so close to the crowd, they were definitely not fans of the fields itself,” he said.
The next stop on the 10 city tour is Vancouver and more than one coach expressed frustration at the state of the surface at Sam Boyd Stadium, Johnston said.
And while Las Vegas is obviously a fun place for fans, players weren't happy about staying at hotels that allowed smoking, which is not common in other places around the world.
Johnston said he is not sure why but organizers were unable to negotiate an agreement with the under-construction Raiders stadium to move the tournament there when it is finished.
He is also not sure where the tournament will land but the atmosphere in Las Vegas will be tough to replicate somewhere else.
Johnston said the USA Sevens tournament draws people from across the country and Canada to not only cheer on Team USA and Team Canada but also the teams representing their home countries.
“It has really been a really impressive all-around event for both recruiting and players and as a way to kind of bring players together and almost a celebration of the game,” he said.
He said there is a "real social element" to the tournament.
“It’s a really fun, exciting, colorful event,” he said.
The sport's popularity has been on the upswing since its inclusion in the 2016 Olympics. A professional American rugby league formed last year with 10 teams, none in Nevada.
Patrick Johnston, rugby writer
You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for. If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.