Before rugby heads to Rio in 2016, the world’s newest Olympic sport will take a pit stop in Cary.
Ten nations will meet Saturday and Sunday at WakeMed Soccer Park to compete in the 2015 North America Caribbean Rugby Association Men’s and Women’s Sevens Championships. The winners will capture berths to the 2016 Olympic Games.
With more than 50 games scheduled between Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon, the action should rarely stop.
A sevens match, which features fewer players than the 15 members per side in traditional rugby, consists of two seven-minute halves and often ends in less than 20 minutes. The games present a faster pace and wide-open style of play.
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“At any time, someone could hit a home run and go 80 yards down the field,” said Nick Sero, manager of digital and communications for USA Rugby. “It’s more about athleticism than brute strength.”
The competitions will occur on two adjacent fields – a 10,000-seat main stadium and the smaller Koka Booth Stadium – and the dividing concourse will feature concessions, merchandise, sponsor locations and USA rugby inflatables.
Hill Carrow, CEO of the Triangle Sports Commission, which is one of 10 U.S. Olympic Committee Community Olympic Partners and will host the event in conjunction with NACRA, said he doesn’t expect to make a profit on the weekend. The event will cost the two organizations at least $115,000, though the Cary Town Council voted in January to front the cost.
“It’s all a big expense item,” Carrow said. “For events like this, we work like dogs to break even.”
Raleigh Rugby Club members have sold 150 to 200 tickets to the tournaments, but Frank Milchuck, a longtime player with the club, expects about 5,000 people to show up each day.
“Rugby players are famous for waiting till the last minute,” Milchuck said.
Milchuck will prepare for the weekend with a Friday night amateur rugby sevens tournament that will include teams from neighboring states. The tournament will run from 8 p.m. until at least 3 a.m.
The U.S. delegation will spend its Friday with about 65 kids from a local Boys & Girls Clubs of America chapter. The two-hour training session, put on by the North Carolina Youth Rugby Union, will allow fourth-through seventh-graders to learn from players and meet Rookie Eagle, the squad’s mascot.
Those in attendance on Saturday or Sunday will get their chance to nab autographs or take photos after the U.S. matches.
The U.S. men’s team captured its first ever World Rugby HSBC Sevens World Series title with a May victory over Australia in London, but the team finished sixth in the world rankings. Only the top four teams receive automatic Olympic berths.
This weekend provides another opportunity to grab a spot, and the U.S. defeated its most difficult opponent, Canada, in four of their last five meetings.
“I don’t want to get ahead of myself or jinx anything, but we should have a fairly strong showing,” Sero said.
The U.S. men open play against St. Vincent at 1:22 p.m. Saturday.
The American women should enter as favorites. The Canadians already qualified and will not compete this weekend. The U.S. meets Jamaica at 11:44 a.m. Saturday.
If you go:
When: Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Sunday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Where: WakeMed Soccer Park, 201 Soccer Park Drive, Cary
How much: One-day ticket, $15-$25; two-day ticket, $25-$40. Free same-day re-admittance to parking lots and the venue.
Men’s field: Mexico, Barbados, St. Vincent, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Cayman Islands, Bahama, U.S. and Canada
Women’s field: U.S., Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Barbados, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago, Bahamas and Guyana
Live stream: USARugbyTV.com