Rugby has finally made it to the Olympics — well, at least one form of the sport. During the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games, countries from around the world will have the opportunity to participate in sevens rugby, which has been gaining popularity as of late.
The other form of the sport, fifteens rugby, is more commonly played. But with the spotlight of the Olympics and the predisposition of the United States to favor fast-paced, high-scoring events, sevens has closed the gap.
Here at Oregon, the men’s rugby club competes in both forms, with sevens occurring in the fall and fifteens in the spring.
“They are both exciting,” Oregon head coach Pate Tuisue said. “Each focuses on different skills.”
The most obvious difference comes via the names, with one being played by teams of fifteen and the other by teams of seven. Since the size of the pitch remains the same, this allows sevens rugby to have a more open and fluid style. The sport leans towards the individual, with fewer players on each side allowing bigger gaps in the defense to break through.
“Sevens is more about open-space, passing and finesse,” forwards captain Chuck Goldensohn said, “while fifteens is about power.”
Goldensohn loves the hitting and contact of rugby, so he prefers fifteens. Fifteens is a more strategic game because there are so many pieces to account for, thus the attackers must work harder to score. This shows in more set plays being called during the match.
“There are a lot of complications that come with fifteens,” Goldensohn said. “Sevens is easy to watch and understand.”
There are a lot more rules and penalties in fifteens, which can alienate newcomers to the sport. In sevens less stoppage occurs, and resetting play through the scrum, which only has three players from each side as opposed to eight, is a less arduous process. Sevens also has a much shorter run time, with games only having seven-minute halves as opposed to the 40 minutes in fifteens.
The format for games is also different. Sevens matches take place at weekend tournaments, where teams compete against four to five other squads. This shifts the focus in training to conditioning, as players must be able to recover quickly.
In fifteens the matches occur on a weekly head-to-head system, allowing for more time to prepare for specific opponents.
Both forms of rugby have merits and they provide an interesting contrast between the different ways the sport can be watched. Oregon takes each season seriously and enjoys playing both, though the outlook for the club is different between the two.
“I think we will have more success in fifteens this season, just because we will have had more time to prepare,” club president Jess Kraus said.
With such a young team, the Ducks have been working to integrate the new faces into the mix. This is a process that takes time, which has turned this sevens season into an opportunity to build chemistry. So for them, the spotlight remains on fifteens.
Follow Christopher Keizur on Twitter @chriskeizur