Rugby 7s Tourney
With the 2016 Summer Olympics only a little more than a year away, it’s exciting to see a new Olympic sport coming to Hawaii this week. The sport is Rugby Sevens, and the event is the Aloha World Sevens International Rugby Tournament.
“Sevens Rugby has been added to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That’s an indication of the growing popularity of the sport,” says Reg Schwenke, president of Aloha World Sevens. “It’s now the fastest-growing sport in the U.S.”
The Sevens tournament at Aloha Stadium this Friday and Saturday (March 20-21) will feature some of the best U20 (under age 20) teams from Hawaii, New Zealand and Canada.
“Sevens (seven players a side) is a very fast game, a much higher-scoring game than traditional (15-a-side) rugby,” Schwenke explains. “Sevens requires a lot of speed. In Hawaii, many of the players may have been football players — typically, wide receivers and running backs do really well.”
This is the second year that the prestigious tournament has been held in Hawaii. Last year’s inaugural event was held at Kapiolani Park, with Honolulu Titans winning the men’s championship (beating Kahuku in the finals), while the top New Zealand high school team won the women’s title.
“Our goal in moving it to Aloha Stadium is to continue to build the prestige of the tournament. (Eventually), we want to hold a world championship in the sport here,” Schwenke says. “Both the World Rugby and USA Rugby associations have been very supportive of our plans.”
Schwenke called me from Australia, but he has strong ties to the Islands, including a stint as a reporter at the old Honolulu Advertiser. His brother McKay serves as tournament director. McKay’s son (Reg’s nephew) is former Kahuku high school football great Kona Schwenke, who played collegiately at Notre Dame and now has a spot on the Oakland Raiders roster.
“Kona grew up playing rugby, that was his base sport,” his uncle says. “Many youngsters in the Kahuku and Laie area grow up with the sport.”
Rugby is popular especially among Pacific Islanders, with enormous pride in the sport shown throughout the South Pacific, New Zealand, and Australia — as well as Africa and Europe. The movie Invictus, starring Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman, was a huge smash globally a few years ago. USA Rugby teams continue to grow in prominence, and American teams are often ranked in the top 20 in the world.
“We feel this tournament represents an enormous opportunity for our Hawaii athletes to be on the USA team, plus this tournament provides great international exposure,” Schwenke says. “I personally feel that our top teams from Hawaii can compete with anyone from the U.S.”
Teams from Maui and Hawaii island will join the top teams from Oahu in the Aloha Sevens tournament. As an additional highlight, the 7 p.m. feature game Friday will be an international matchup of 15-a-side teams. “We’ve got the Hawaiian State Rugby 15s champions from Kahuku (ranked ninth in the U.S.) against St. Anne’s Secondary School from Ontario, Canada,” Schwenke says. “We think it will be a great tournament, and we encourage fans to come out and support their favorites and also learn about this exciting sport.”