After a two-year pandemic hiatus, rugby players and fans got their fix of fast-paced, hard-hitting action this weekend at the Kelowna Summerfest Rugby 7’s tournament in City Park. The event featured men’s, women’s and youth elite divisions with each division winner earning cash and prizes.
Instead of the usual 15 players on each team playing 40-minute halves, rugby sevens is a much faster variant of the sport, as it’s played with seven players per team and the halves are cut down to seven minutes each. The change in pace is certainly noticeable for some players.
“Some of the guys are out of shape a little bit, it’s the summertime so we’ve been trying our best to cover where we need it. It’s kind of survival of the fittest in sevens,” said Graham Haigh.
“Whoever can stay healthiest and stay most hydrated usually wins,”
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Back in his hometown of Richmond, BC, Haigh is the president of the Richmond Rugby Football Club, and has been playing the sport since he was just 12 years old. He says what makes rugby so special is the comradery not just between teammates, but also with opposing teams.
“I’ve played soccer, I’ve played lacrosse, I’ve played hockey and you just don’t see that as much in the other sports. Teams kind of just stick to themselves but rugby really is a festival-type atmosphere where teams come together and clubs kind of look after each other and that’s just drawn me to the sport,” explained Haigh.
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Typically, rugby is viewed as a physical sport, but it’s also affordable and inclusive which has helped generate a lot of interest for the game in Kelowna over the past few years.
“There has been a touch league that’s been running for the last couple of years, non-contact rugby, which is up to 600 people so that’s been great,” said Kelowna Summerfest organizer, Edward Pye.
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“The Crows local team — the senior men’s team was one team. Now it’s gone up to two teams and the university program is growing and the youth program is going really well as well so its definitely a growing sport.”
Dozens of fans packed the sidelines to catch a glimpse of some of the elite talent on display, but for those watching the games on the Summerfest online broadcast, you may have heard the voice of one of the most well-known ex-Rugby players in Canada, Gareth Rees. The former fly-half and fullback was doing play-by-play commentary, and he described Kelowna as the ideal host for the event.
“Well, I’ll tell you what, long weekend in Kelowna in the middle of summer. There’s nowhere else you want to be, explained BC Sport Hall of Fame inductee, Gareth Rees.
“My kids are up here, my wife is up here, and they get to see the lake as well as a bit of rugby and that’s why I’d recommend it to people. Because of the support, because of the field and all the facilities here there’s just nothing better.”
Kelowna’s Summerfest Rugby 7’s tournament is set to take place at City Park for the next three years over the British Columbia Day long weekend.