Rugby's successful San Francisco weekend comes to a close

SAN FRANCISCO — It was as much a competition as it was an exhibition.

The battles on the pitch at the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens were intense, but competitors immediately became cordial once the final whistle blew.

There appeared to be minimal animosity between rival fans in the crowd. Supporting multiple squads was commonplace, especially when everyone's second favourite team besides his or her home country was usually Fiji.

It's something that players and fans alike take pride in: you may beat the stuffing out of each other for 14 minutes, but you'll have a laugh and a chat about it afterwards. The in-game tackles are delivered with the same enthusiasm as post-match hugs, without a hint of irony.

Relive the second day of the Rugby World Cup sevens tournament from San Francisco, watching the plays of the day in a musical montage. 1:48

"That's the great thing about our game," said Gareth Rees, the first Canadian player inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame who's working as a producer and commentator for the international broadcast at the tournament.

"To put it in a business term, I think it's a competitive advantage we have over other sports, that we are very linked from the very top of the game to the bottom of the game."

Unabashedly unconventional

Most rugby fans would agree that there's no better way to spend a day than by watching the sport they love. But watching it is hardly a passive experience, especially live at a major tournament like the World Cup.

Diehard supporters are well-practised at having a good time – which does often involve a drink of some kind – but know how to pace themselves through a weekend's worth of action. New fans are immediately attracted to the Technicolor outfits in the crowd and the Netflix-like queue of quick games in front of them.

"Why the costumes?" is as frequent a question asked to rugby devotees as "why not pass it forward?" Jerseys and face paint are self-explanatory, while others getups require a bit of vexillology when a sea of baby blue erupts with every play by the black-and-white clad Fijian team (hint: Google the country's flag)

And since the World Cup was in San Francisco, there were enough fans dressed as Alcatraz prisoners that you wouldn't be shocked if Sean Connery showed up to once again out-crazy Nicolas Cage.

Appreciating the moment

All of that could be written off as just "only at sevens," but the same expression also aptly describes a tournament where access to the athletes is as simple as mingling with them during the opening ceremony.

"That's way different than what you have with the 15s," said Canadian fan Marge Thompson, referring to the 15-a-side version of rugby union.

Even with those differences between the two versions of the sport, it's all still rugby for Tim Powers, the board of governors chairman for Rugby Canada.

"We don't want to let the code of the sport, be it sevens, 15s or league get in the way of a kid running around with the ball," he said, adding the 13-player version of the sport that has gained notoriety in Canada through the Toronto Wolfpack.

Growing the sport in Canada is part of the national union's mandate, and Powers referenced his 13-year-old niece who began playing rugby a year and a half ago as an example of the sport's potential.

"She plays with the boys, they play pick-up games, they play 10s, they play 15s, they play 7s, they run around with a ball in their hand and they're happy and there's lots of pathways for them to grow," Powers said.

Relive the first day of the Rugby World Cup sevens tournament from San Francisco, watching the plays of the day in a musical montage. 1:16

There are unquestionably issues facing the sport both in Canada and abroad, and the World Cup isn't above reproach. The knockout-style formula is not popular among coaches, according to Canadian men's boss Damian McGrath, as rumours swirl that it might override the established pool-play setup on the World Rugby Sevens Series and at the Olympic Games.

Rugby sevens is like any other professional sport in that it's a business, but it's still young enough that sometimes it's not so bad to step back and soak in the moment.

"There's still that pressure to perform, just like when I was playing for Canada," Rees said.

"[But] we need to be appreciative, we need to just really value it."

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