The newest Olympic sport will be showcased at the Collegiate Rugby Championships in Philadelphia this weekend.
It’s possible that some of the players in the 20-school tournament could be part of the first U.S. Olympic Rugby Sevens Team, should the U.S. qualify for the Rio 2016 Games.
“Once people see the sport, it becomes pretty compelling despite whether or not people know the laws of the game just yet,” said NBC Sports rugby sevens analyst Brian Hightower, a former U.S. National Team captain. “There’s just so much sheer athleticism, a lot of contact, also a lot of skill and open running. It’s a pretty dynamic game.”
Hightower said at least three players from last year’s Collegiate Rugby Championships are in the U.S. National Team player pool already.
California, historically the most successful program in the traditional 15-per-side rugby union, won its first national sevens title last year after being upset by Utah in the tournament’s debut in 2010 and taking third in 2012. Dartmouth captured titles in 2011 and 2012.
Cal and Dartmouth are among the favorites out of 20 schools split into five groups that will play round-robin games Saturday (games consist of seven-minute halves and a two-minute halftime). The five group winners plus the top three second-place teams advance to the championship knockout rounds Sunday, with the final later at 5:29 p.m. ET.
Players to watch include Cal captain Seamus Kelly and Dartmouth’s Madison Hughes. who already have U.S. National Team caps.
Here’s the broadcast schedule:
NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra, 3-4:30 p.m. ET
NBCSN and Live Extra, 4:30-6
Comcast Network, 6-8
NBCSN, 2-4 p.m. ET
NBC and Live Extra, 4-6
“Every year this tournament gets a little bit bigger,” Hightower said. “It really has kind of signaled the growth of the game as it reaches toward the Olympics.”