Premier Rugby Sevens announces events in California, DC and Texas

Women’s and men’s squads will compete for one trophy in expansion of groundbreaking professional competition

The first US rugby union competition to offer professional contracts to women will hold tournaments in July in San Jose, Washington DC and Austin.

Premier Rugby Sevens staged a pilot tournament in Memphis, Tennessee last October. This year, as in that event, women’s and men’s squads will compete for equal pay in one-day showcases of the Olympic form of the game.

In a new feature, only one champion will be named, based on combined points totals earned by four women’s and four men’s squads.

Owen Scannell, chief executive of Premier Rugby Sevens, said: “We are extremely excited to scale PR7s across America, bringing rugby sevens to major venues that will act as regional hubs for the rugby community.

“We believe the Bay Area, central Texas and the DMV [DC and parts of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia] will give our league a footprint for fans to easily witness the spectacle that is a PR7s live event.

“Each city brings entertainment options that will complement the festival and party environment that is synonymous with the sport of sevens around the world.”

Three Major League Soccer venues will host: PayPal Park (home of the San Jose Earthquakes, holding 18,000, on 9 July), Audi Field (DC United, 20,000, 16 July) and Q2 Stadium (Austin FC, 21,000, 30 July).

Men and women will compete in 14-minute games under squad names unique to PR7s: Experts, Headliners, Loonies and Loggerheads.

In Memphis last year, Perry Baker, an Olympian and two-time men’s world sevens player of the year, led the Experts to victory. Alev Kelter, an Olympian now playing in England with Saracens, led the Loonies to the women’s title.

PR7s said a “cumulative audience” of 472,000 watched on Fox Sports and TSN.

Ross Young, chief executive of sanctioning body USA Rugby, offered “a sincere congratulation to everyone at PR7s as they exponentially build on an impressive debut in 2021.

“The line of events in 2022 truly amplifies the sevens season this summer and in three of the best rugby cities the United States has to offer.

“With three-times the opportunity for current and aspiring Olympians to compete at a professional level, PR7s continues to present an invaluable platform for USA Rugby high-performance development and scouting.”

Three players who played in Memphis subsequently made US Eagles debuts: Logan Tago, Aaron Cummings and Sarah Levy.

The US sevens calendar is crowded, and PR7s will this year take place at a busy time in the amateur club calendar. In professional play, though, PR7s has set its stall out first. Its new events will follow the fifth season of Major League Rugby, the 15-a-side men’s pro competition. Sources within MLR said the league had no plan to launch its own sevens competition this year but could do so in future.

Last December, another USA Rugby-sanctioned sevens venture said it would hold an event in Las Vegas in October 2022. An announcement said US Rugby Sevens Major League would see “the world’s best international men’s rugby sevens players compete against the best US players for record-breaking prize money of $1m”.

The group behind the project, Rugby Football League (separate from the governing body of British rugby league, of the same name) also said that in 2023 it would stage 17 tournaments, featuring “up to 16 US team franchises playing with top international teams”. Little else has emerged.

The US market remains a tantalising prize, coveted across the rugby world. In sevens, the US hosted the last World Cup, in San Francisco in 2018. In 15s, it is on track to be announced in May as the host of the 2031 men’s Rugby World Cup and the women’s event two years later.


Martin Pengelly in New York

The GuardianTramp

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