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Rugby sevens, also known as seven-a-side and VIIs, is a variant of rugby union in which teams are made up of seven players, instead of the usual 15, with shorter matches. The game originated in Melrose, Scotlandmarker, and the Melrose Sevens is still played annually. The game is popular at all levels, with amateur and club tournaments generally held in the summer months. Notable international competitions include the IRB Sevens World Series and the Rugby World Cup Sevens. Rugby sevens is also played at some multi-sport events such as the Commonwealth Games.

Rugby sevens is now recognised as an Olympic sport and will make its debut in the 2016 Summer Olympics. This follows a vote by the executive board of the International Olympic Committee marker to include the sport. That decision was backed at the 121st International Olympic Committee Session in Copenhagenmarker on October 9 2009.


Rugby sevens is sanctioned by the IRB, and is played under substantially the same laws and on a field of the same dimensions as the 15-player game. While a normal rugby union match lasts at least 80 minutes, a normal sevens match consists of two halves of seven minutes with a one-minute half-time break. The final of a competition can be played over two halves of ten minutes each, with a half-time break of two minutes. (In the IRB Sevens World Series, only the Cup final, which determines the overall winner of an event, is played with 10-minute halves; all finals for lower-level trophies are played with 7-minute halves.) This allows rugby tournaments to be completed in a day or a weekend. However, sevens scores are generally comparable to union scores; scoring occurs with much greater regularity in sevens, since the defenders are more spaced out.

Playing area

Sevens is played on a standard rugby union playing field as defined in the International Rugby Board's handbook.

Teams and positions

Teams are composed of three forwards, one scrum half and three backs.

Scrum are composed of just three players from each team. Because of the speedy nature of the game, good sevens players are often backs or loose forwards in fifteens rugby.

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Variations to the Laws of the Game

There are several variations in laws which apply to Rugby Sevens, primarily to speed up the game and to account for the reduced number of players. The main changes can be summarised as follows:

  • Seven players per team on field (instead of 15).
  • Five substitutes, with only three interchanges (instead of 7 and 7).
  • Seven minute halves, though ten minute halves are allowed in the final of a competition (instead of forty minute halves).
  • One minute half-time, two minutes in finals (instead of ten minutes).
  • Matches drawn after regulation are continued into Extra Time, in 5-minute periods.
  • All conversion attempts must be drop-kicked (instead of having the option to place-kick).
  • Conversions must be taken within 40 seconds of scoring a try (instead of 60 seconds).
  • Three player scrums (instead of eight players).
  • Kick-offs: in sevens, the team which has just scored kicks off, rather than the conceding team, as in fifteen-a-side.
  • Yellow cards net a 2-minute suspension (instead of 10 minutes).
    • Suspensions are more severe in Sevens than in Fifteens. The team plays a man down for 1/7th of the match instead of 1/8th, and losing 1 man out of 7 opens up more space than 1 man out of 15.
  • Referees decide on advantage quickly (where one play usually ends advantage, not true in fifteens).
  • In major competitions, there are additional officials present (in-goal touch judges) to judge success of kicks at goals and hence the game is not delayed waiting for touch judges to move into position to judge conversion attempts.


Rugby sevens was initially conceived by Ned Haig and David Sanderson, who were butchers from Melrosemarker, Scotlandmarker as a fund-raising event for his local club, Melrose RFC, in 1883. The first ever sevens match was played at the Greenyards, the Melrose ground, where it was well received. Two years later, Tynedale was the first non-Scottish club to win one of the Borders Sevens titles at Gala in 1885.

The first sevens tournament outside Scotland was the Percy Park Sevens at North Shieldsmarker in north east England in 1921. Because it was not far from the Scottish Borders, it attracted interest from the code's birthplace, and the final was contested between Selkirk (who won) and Melrose RFC (who were runners up). In 1926, England's major tournament, the Middlesex Sevens was set up by Dr J.A. Russell-Cargill, a London based Scot.

The first ever officially sanctioned international tournament occurred at Murrayfieldmarker as part of the "Scottish Rugby Union's Celebration of Rugby" centenary celebrations in 1973.

Due to the success of the format, the ongoing Hong Kong Sevens was launched three years later. In 1993, the Rugby World Cup Sevens, in which the Melrose Cup is contested, was launched. Three of the best known sevens competitions are the Hong Kong Sevens, Wellington Sevens, and the Dubai Sevens which now make up part of the IRB Sevens World Series.

The Scottish connection continued in the foundation of the Hong Kong Sevens in the 1970s, founded largely by expats such as "Tokkie" Smith, and in England, London Scottish RFC was strongly involved in the Middlesex Sevens from the start.

Rugby sevens continues to be popular in the Scottish Borders, where the ten most prestigious of these tournaments make up a league competition known as the "Kings of the Sevens". Sevens has also taken strong root in the South Sea island nations of Fijimarker, Tongamarker, and Samoamarker.

In honour of the role of Melrose RFC in the creation of rugby sevens, the club was inducted along with Haig to the IRB Hall of Fame in 2008.

Major tournaments

Other events (with alternative names in brackets):

Rugby sevens at multisport competitions

[[File:WG Kaohsiung - RSA vs. ARG - Rugby Sevens.jpg|right|300px|thumb|South Africa playingArgentina as part of the 2009 World Games in Kaohsiungmarker, Taiwanmarker]]

Commonwealth Games

Rugby sevens has been played at three Commonwealth Games since its first appearance, at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, in Kuala Lumpurmarker, Malaysiamarker. Appearing in 2002 (Manchestermarker) and 2006 (Melbournemarker), it is now considered a "Core" sport by the Commonwealth Games Federation, necessitating its appearance at all future games, including the upcoming 2010 Games (Delhimarker), and the 2014 Games (Glasgowmarker). It is one of the two male-only sports at the Commonwealth Games, the other being boxing.

Summer Olympics

There have been proposals for sevens to be included in the Olympic Games (it has been in the Commonwealth Games since 1998). The IRB pointed towards sell-out crowds at Commonwealth Games and World Cup sevens as proof of the sport's popularity. However, the International Olympic Committeemarker (IOC) turned down the bid for the purposes of the 2012 Olympics to be held in London.

One IOC official from Switzerland, Dennis Oswald, dismissed the bid declaring:
"When it comes to rugby, I am not a specialist, but people within the sport tell me that rugby sevens is something of a joke."

Oswald later confirmed that he had never in fact watched a game of sevens, or indeed, fifteens rugby. Although disappointed, the IRB responded by pointing out that in terms of the Olympic motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius (faster, higher, stronger), a rugby player was more likely to possess all of these attributes than competitors in some other Olympic events. The IRB has recently moved to counter criticisms that it only proposed for a male Olympic tournament, establishing a series of Sevens events for women; the 2009 Rugby World Cup Sevens included a women's championship for the first time.

On the 13th of August 2009 the executive board announced that rugby sevens would be recommended for inclusion in the 2016 Olympic Games.

On October 9, 2009 IOC voted to include rugby sevens and golf on the program for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiromarker, Brazilmarker was made on October 9, 2009. The other 26 sports were also confirmed with a big majority of the votes. The 2016 Summer Olympic program is scheduled to feature 28 sports and a total of 38 disciplines. There were two open spots for sports and initially seven sports began the bidding for inclusion in the 2016 program. Baseball and softball, which were dropped from the program in 2005, karate, squash, golf, roller sports (inline speed skating) and rugby sevens all applied to be included. Leaders of the seven sports held presentations in front of the IOC executive board in June 2009. A new system was in place at this Session in which a sport now needs only a simple majority rather than the two-thirds majority that was required before.

FIRA European Sevens

2005 FIRA European Sevens

Portugal defeated Russia 28-26 to the Grand Final of the 2005 FIRA European Sevens in Moscowmarker to retain the trophy they have won for the last three years. Spain won the Plate with a 25-14 win over Germany, whilst Lithuania claimed the Bowl. Portugal topped their group on day one, recording four victories and a 7-7 draw, against Italy. In Pool B, Russia delighted the home fans with five wins out of five, including a 33-7 victory over France. They followed that up on day two by defeating Italy 17-0 in the Cup semi-finals, whilst Portugal beat France 22-7.


Top try-scorers (>100 tries)
Player Nationality Tries
Santiago Gomez Cora ARG 225
Fabian Juries RSA 173
Ben Gollings ENG 176
Nasoni Roko FJI 114
Karl Te Nana NZL 113
Uale Mai SAM 112
Amasio Valence NZL 112
Tafai Ioasa NZL 109
Peter Miller AUS 107
Richard Haughton ENG 106
Dave Moonlight CAN 101
Rob Thirlby ENG 101

Women's Rugby sevens

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A women's rugby sevens game in the USA

Women's rugby sevens has been dominated by New Zealand, with either the New Zealand team (1999-2001) or Aotearoa Maori Women’s Rugby sevens team (playing as New Zealand) [58125] winning the annual Hong Kong Sevens tournament from 1997 until 2007. The United States won the Hong Kong Sevens in 2008 by defeating Canada in the final (New Zealand failed to send a team).

The inaugural Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament took place in Dubai together with the men’s tournament during the first weekend of March 2009. England defeated Canada 12-0 in the Bowl final while Australia edged New Zealand 15-10 in extra-time to become the first to win the Women's Rugby World Cup.

Women's rugby sevens was included in the IRB's successful bid to reintroduce rugby to the Olympics in 2016. It is also bidding for inclusion in the Commonwealth Games in 2018.

Rugby league sevens

Rugby league may also be played under seven-a-side rules, though this is less common as an alternative when compared with rugby league nines. The game is substantially the same as full rugby league, however scrums involve only three players per team, and all kicks at goal must be made by drop-kicks. The major tournament was the World Sevens played prior to the start of the National Rugby League season in Sydneymarker, but the tournament has been cancelled.

Rugby league sevens is particularly popular with pub teams — formed from the regulars at a particular public house, the reason for this is that it is often difficult for a single pub to form a full squad of 13 players and four substitutes of willing players.


Printed sources

  • Bath, Richard (ed.) The Complete Book of Rugby (Seven Oaks Ltd, 1997 ISBN 1 86200 013 3)
  • Bath, Richard (ed.) The Scotland Rugby Miscellany (Vision Sports Publishing Ltd, 2007 ISBN 1905326246)
  • McLaren, Bill Talking of Rugby (1991, Stanley Paul, London ISBN 0 09 173875 X)
  • Massie, Allan A Portrait of Scottish Rugby (Polygon, Edinburgh; ISBN 0 904919 84 6)


  1. Bath, Scotland Rugby Miscellany, p82
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See also

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