By DR. J. ZIMMERMAN
Rugby is the second-most popular sport in the world and is the fastest growing sport in the United States. This summer marks the return of rugby to the Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The last time rugby was played in the Olympics was in 1924, when team USA successfully defended its championship, winning the gold medal for the second time in a row.
The version of rugby in the Olympics at that time was 15-man rugby. This type of rugby is a very physical sport and teams need a week to recuperate between matches. It is very impractical (and unhealthy) for a competition consisting of 15 to 20 teams to compete during a two-week period.
For instance, the European 6 Nations rugby championship (with only 6 teams competing) takes almost two months to conclude.
That being said, the ideal form of rugby for the Olympics (and the one that has been chosen for competition this summer) is seven-man rugby. Each team has seven players and plays two seven-minute halves with a short halftime break of a few minutes. These seven-person teams have to cover the same size field as 15-man rugby — 110 yards long by 70 yards wide. This size field, with two teams of seven playing, makes the matches extremely fast-paced with frequent scoring.
The seven-man style rugby matches have wide-open runs mixed in with hard-hitting tackles. Since the games are short, one team can play up to 5 matches in a single day. Five 7s-style matches take less time to play than one 80-minute game of the 15-man version of a rugby union match.
Some say that 7s rugby is the sport that will push rugby over the popularity edge in the USA. The argument goes that seven’s rugby is ideal for the USA sports mentality. Frequent scores, hard-hitting tackles, wide-open runs and a short time span for matches.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, pundits say that 15-man rugby didn’t catch on in the USA as a spectator sport because television stations could not air matches due to the lack of commercial advertising space. This style of rugby has two 40-minute halves with a 5-minute halftime. The rugby matches are 80 minutes of continuous, non-stop action. While this type of game is thrilling for the spectator, it is a monetary loss for the television stations, as they could only place commercials for the game during halftime (which is only 5 minutes long) as opposed to a sport such as the NFL, which has a commercial break every few moments.
So, welcome to the world of 7s rugby. As president of the Jersey Shore Rugby Club Board of Directors and head coach of the men’s team, this summer’s Olympics is very exciting for me.
I see this as an opportunity to broaden the sport’s popularity and grow the sport locally, increasing my teams’ numbers in all of our divisions. I see 7s rugby as a gateway into our sport.
Our club offers our area men’s rugby (3 teams, ages 18-35; varsity and JV, and old boys ages 35 and older), high school club rugby (under age 19) and co-ed youth tag rugby (ages 6-14).
In addition, we have a summer 7s program where interested athletes practice one night per week and play in tournaments during the summer.
Last week, the Jersey Shore Sharks 7s team traveled to the North Penn 7s to compete in a day of action-packed matches.
Next up for our 7s squad is one of the biggest 7s tournaments on the East Coast (and it is even local). The Sea Isle City 7s tournament. Teams from throughout the country and Canada compete in this two-day tournament in all divisions. Youth, high school, college, men’s and women’s. If you are interested in playing 7s rugby, contact me. No experience is necessary and it is an extremely fun sport.
And for those who are not thrilled with the physicality of 15-man rugby, 7s rugby is ideal! It has less of the hard contact and can be a showcase for athletes with speed and the ability to “juke” past their opponents to score!
Dr. J. Zimmerman is the president of the Jersey Shore Rugby Club Board of Directors. He is the men’s club head coach and director of youth rugby. Dr. J. is also the team chiropractor. For more information on Jersey Shore Sharks Rugby visit www.JerseyShoreRugby.com or on Facebook at Jersey Shore Rugby Club or call 609-652-6363, e-mail: Jerseyshoresharks@gmail.com.