Action during a men’s rugby sevens game in a previous competition. / SUR

World Rugby Sevens lands in Andalucía

One of World Rugby’s most prestigious tournaments arrives in Andalucía next week in the hope of kick-starting a Spanish passion for a relatively unknown sport.

SHAY CONAGHAN

For the first time in history, Spain will be hosting the World Rugby Sevens Series, a tournament in which international 7s teams - both men and women - pick up series points, with the overall winner crowned at the end of the season.

The two series in Andalucía will be played on consecutive weekends. Firstly, Malaga will be the host between 21 and 23 January, with games being played at the Estadio Ciudad de Málaga.

Seville will take over on the weekend of 28 to 30 January, with the matches being played out in the colossal Estadio de La Cartuja, with capacity for 60,000 spectators.

The series lands in Spain for the first time, with the country being a ‘core team’ in the tournament for a number of years. “Spain has a lot of things going for it,” said New Zealander Paul Nicholson, CEO of KiwiHouse, the tournament promoter.

“It’s very accustomed to successfully holding large sporting events and the beauty of having it in Andalucía is that they can be held at any time throughout the year because of the weather, which provides good conditions to play rugby.”

World Rugby Sevens Series

Rugby 7s can be considered a mix of professional sports and a festival. Though similar to its big brother, rugby union, 7s is unique in the way it plays out.

“If you’ve never seen a game of rugby in your life and don’t know the rules of it, 7s is probably the most simple and exciting format to watch,”explained Nicholson.

Each game lasts just 14 minutes and consists of two, seven-minute halves, with two teams of seven players playing on a full-sized rugby pitch.

“It’s running, sprinting rugby and very exciting to watch. The moment you see a few games, you’ll be addicted to what is 7s,” said Nicholson.

The series has an intense and condensed format. Played across three days, there are 28 participating sides from the top nations in the world - 16 men’s and 12 women’s teams - with almost 12 hours of non-stop rugby played every day during the weekend.

Out of the 28 teams heading to Andalucía, four of them picked up medals in last year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. The men’s teams include gold medallists Fiji and Argentina, who picked up bronze. As for the women’s sides, France will be in attendance after their silver medals alongside Fiji, who managed bronze.

Notable games to watch out for include Spain’s men’s clash with the Argentinians in group C; South Africa, England and Scotland all face each other in group A.

Spain’s women will have a tough game against two-time winners Australia in group A; England and France will come together in group C, in what has historically been a heated rivalry.

A stroke of luck for the tournament hosts

Rugby 7s in Spain is not a very well-known sport, which is why the chance of hosting two series was too good an opportunity to ignore.

“This whole tournament has come about because of Covid,” said KiwiHouse CEO Nicholson. “Both these series were set to be played in Hamilton (New Zealand) and Sydney (Australia) on the same weekend. But due to the pandemic and each country’s quarantine restrictions, the opportunity for Spain to host came about. There aren’t many countries in the world that can put up their hands and say that they could do it,” he said.

So from the misfortune of the two initial host countries, a stroke of luck fell upon Spain. “It’s a great opportunity, one that I don’t think would have ever arisen for Spain, at least not in the next few years,” Nicholson said. “We have to jump at the chance and take it. We want to make it a success, so that both World Rugby, the fans and teams want to come back here.”

The World Rugby Sevens Series trophies in La Cartuja stadium. / SUR

A non-stop party in Spain’s sunny south

The World Rugby Sevens Series is unique because of the added entertainment it offers fans. As well as being able to experience nearly 12 hours of daily rugby across a weekend, attendees will have a dedicated fan zone to enjoy. This means that people won’t be sitting in their seats the whole time watching rugby.

“It’s a long day. You’ll have time to go and enjoy the rugby from a slightly different arena. There will also be dedicated kids’ zones and all sorts of activities, alongside bars and restaurants,” said Nicholson. This includes live music with DJs, lights and fireworks to really make a show of the whole event.

In addition, there will be an international presence to really show the sport off to those unfamiliar with it. “These particular tournaments are special. We’re also bringing in international expertise on 7s, as the knowledge of how it works in Spain is limited,” he said.

But Spain being chosen to replace the nations Down Under was no coincidence, either. In early 2021, Madrid held a small, pre-Olympic tournament under the gaze of World Rugby, which could lead to the Mediterranean country hosting more events in the future.

“The tournament we held last February gave World Rugby the assurance to give Spain a couple of world series. Once they have confidence in how things are managed on the ground, it can lead to more in the future,” he said.

The World Rugby Sevens Series begins next week, when fans will be dressed up for the occasion, as they mix music, fantastic weather, world class facilities and thrilling rugby.