Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Viva Las Sevens

Today’s guest post comes from my good friend Bob Latham, Vice-Chairman of the Board at USA Rugby. Bob has been a key player in this organization for many years and was also a member of the Board of Directors of the US Olympic Committee from 2000-2004. Bob practices law in Texas with Jackson Walker L.L.P and is Chairman of the firm’s media law and intellectual property litigation practices. His rugby career started at Stanford University, continued at the University of Virginia Law School, and he then played for 13 years for the Dallas Harlequins as well as for the Texas Select Side. In short – he knows his rugby. Here’s Bob’s perspective on the recent World Sevens event in Las Vegas. KR.

For the first time since 7’s Rugby was admitted to the Olympic games, an American audience had a chance to see this exciting new kid on the Olympic block at an international level. Sixteen of the leading national 7’s teams in the world descended upon Las Vegas this last weekend for the USA Sevens – one of eight stops on the IRB’s World Sevens Series. The intimate 32,000 seat Sam Boyd Stadium was an exciting new venue for the event, with the players feeling the energy of the crowd and with one open end of the stadium providing a magnificent view of the setting sun reflecting off the neighboring desert mountains. The boisterous, flag waving Kenyans, Fijians and Samoans, numbering in the thousands each, provided the energy, and with 40,000 or so spectators in the stadium over two days it is possible to picture the event being a sellout within the next two years. The Samoans left happy, as their team decisively beat New Zealand in the Cup final.

Al Caravelli’s young U.S. team gave American fans a glimpse into the 7’s future. The way they bonded around player Marco Barnard, whose father unexpectedly passed away the Wednesday before the tournament, was inspirational – Barnard’s presence itself being a testament to the commitment of the U.S. team. In six matches, the Eagles played only one bad half – against South Africa – in finishing 4 and 2 and capturing the bowl championship. A decisive win over cross border rival Canada, 26-5, on Saturday followed the loss to South Africa and an extremely close call against mighty Fiji.

The exclamation point on Saturday came when veteran U.S. center Paul Emerick set up Bennie Brazell, who just picked up a rugby ball for the first time roughly a month ago, for his first international try. Brazell is a former NFL player (Cincinnati Bengals) who also made the finals in the 400 meter hurdles at the 2004 Athens Olympic. This is the type of athletic talent that Coach Carravelli is able to tap into with the specter of an Olympic medal and the fact that 7’s rugby allows players to be fast tracked into the squad.

The Eagles swept their matches on Sunday against Guyana, Argentina and France to the delight of a very conspicuous Eagle mascot working the crowd and the many American rugby tourists who convinced their loved ones that Vegas was the perfect destination on Valentine’s Day.

There was at least one valentine’s inspired moment as U.S. team captain Kevin Swiryn went “Boise State” on us and proposed to his girlfriend Lauren – a Women’s National Team sevens player herself – on the pitch and captured by the Stadium scoreboard, after the 28-17 victory over France. Their union puts the U.S. in good position, from a DNA perspective, to win Olympic gold in 2036, if not before.

Bob Latham