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Al Lang Stadium to host Halloween weekend rugby tourney

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Some big-time rugby sevens is making its way to St. Pete this Halloween.

Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards and the St. Pete/Clearwater Sports Commission have linked up with American Rugby 7s, a sports and entertainment production group trying to carry rugby into the American mainstream, to bring an Olympic-style sevens tournament to Al Lang Stadium — the Halloween Rugby 7s Elite Invitational.

The tourney, in its inaugural go-around, will be a round-robin style competition, with eight men’s teams competing for a $10,000 purse. Some of the teams competing include the Canada Maple Leafs and the USA Falcons, two international all-star squads with more than a few 2016 Olympic hopefuls, as well as four elite-level American all-star teams: the United States Military Selects, NYC 7s, Denver Men’s Selects, and Columbus 7s.

“We are so excited and honored that these elite teams have accepted our invitation to play in St. Petersburg this fall,” said Karyne Bazzano, founder and CEO of American Rugby 7s, via press-release. “We plan to showcase the high energy and wildly entertaining sport of rugby sevens. [It’s] a true fan’s sport — fast, physical, and high-scoring.”

Rugby sevens, which will be played at the Olympics for the first time next year in Rio de Janeiro, differs from traditional rugby in its match length and player count. Regular union rugby matches usually last about 80 minutes, and feature 15 players on each side. A typical sevens match only goes for two seven-minute halves, with a one-minute halftime break in between, and features only seven players on each side. Although, during a sevens tournament final, the halves are usually extended to 10 minutes and half-times to two minutes. The field, however, is the same size for both styles of play, which tends to lead to more scoring in sevens, given the freed up field space.

Perhaps more than any other organization, USA Rugby, the official governing body of American rugby, will be pulling for St. Pete’s Halloween Rugby 7s Elite Invitational to succeed.

“It is mission critical for USA Rugby to support the accelerated growth of rugby sevens in America in any way possible,” said Nigel Melville, CEO of USA Rugby. “We are proud to sanction this elite-level tournament as not only a destination event for rugby fans across the United States, but also as a highly competitive training and scouting event for our Men’s National Sevens team. Our players need every opportunity possible to compete at an international level in preparation for the 2016 Olympics and beyond.”

The Halloween Rugby 7s Elite Invitational will be played from 1 p.m. to 6.p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 31, and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 1. There will also be some live entertainment, a DJ and a Halloween-themed festival on stadium grounds during the weekend-long event. The Rugby World Cup Final in England will be shown on a few big-screens or projectors as well.

“There will be something for everyone,” said Bazzano. “The festival’s live music, contests and costumes will only add to the fun!”

Devon Crumpacker is a Tampa Bay based writer and reporter for Extensive Enterprises Media. He primarily covers Pinellas County politics for SaintPetersblog.com, but also makes time to write the occasional bar review for FloridaBarTab.com. He lives in St. Petersburg with his fiance, Sydney. To contact, e-mail devon@floridapolitics.com, or visit his Twitter page @DevonCrumpacker.

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