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Rugby Sevens Makes Debut at Olympics

Article posted on: July 25, 2016

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Rugby union will make its first appearance in the Olympic programme for over 90 years this summer as the sevens form of the sport takes centre stage in Rio

Credited with spreading the popularity of rugby in areas including Asia and Africa, this high-octane version of rugby originated in Melrose, Scotland in the 1880s, nearly six decades after schoolboy William Webb Ellis picked up a ball and ran with it during a Rugby School football match. 

This is the first time that rugby sevens will feature at the Olympics. Although many of the laws are the same as the fifteens version, there are a few key differences.

These have mainly been adopted due to the brevity of the game, allowing it to be played quicker than the standard fifteens version. The result is a fast-paced, exciting version of rugby that favours strong players with excellent stamina.


Here are just a few of the differences between rugby sevens and the ‘standard’ fifteens version of the game: 

Number of players

Rugby sevens gets its name from the fact that there are seven players on each team – three forwards and four backs. Three players from each team participate in the scrum and there are five substitutes. 

Length of match

In rugby sevens, two halves of seven minutes each are played (although sometimes the finals of major competitions consist of two halves of ten minutes). Half-time is a maximum of two minutes. And if the match is drawn at the end of regular play, then multiple periods of five minutes are played on a sudden death basis. 


Scoring is essentially the same as the fifteens game. However, it tends to be more frequent in sevens, as the game is played on the same size pitch as the fifteens game, so defenders are much more spread out.

One major difference is in the rules surrounding conversions – in sevens, conversions can only be scored with a dropkick (the place-kick often preferred in the fifteens game is not allowed in sevens). Also, conversions must be taken within 30 seconds of the try being scored – in fifteens it’s 60 seconds. 


In major sevens tournaments, you’ll often see more officials, particularly in-goal judges. This is to eliminate the need for touch judges to get into position to judge the success of conversions. Yellow cards elicit just a 2-minute suspension, rather than 10 minutes.  


Finally, sevens tournaments are often billed as ‘festivals’ and really do have a carnival atmosphere, which really makes this form of the game a great fit for the Rio Olympics. You’ll often see fans in fancy dress, and other entertainment is usually laid on too! 

We’re really excited to see rugby back at the Olympics and think that opting for the sevens version of the game is a great way to demonstrate to the world just how exciting rugby is

The hope is that the sport’s inclusion in the Olympic programme will encourage more to take it up. You may see a rise in enthusiasm within your own school – if you do, why not capitalise on this and arrange a school rugby trip, to develop and encourage this further? 


We’ve got some fantastic rugby experiences just waiting for your students. Need further information or advice? Contact our team today – we’ll be pleased to help in any way we can!


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