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Fast growing rugby sevens is a party

Rugby’s short version lends itself to weekend festivals: Victoria is jumping aboard
Sean Duke is tackled by a Russian player in Canada's Shield trophy win at the IRB Sevens tournament in Edinburgh

It’s a fast game that’s growing even faster.

For the second year in a row, Bullen Park will host the Buccaneer Sevens rugby tournament in conjunction with Esquimalt’s Buccaneer Days, tomorrow (June 11).

Rugby sevens is the short form of rugby union and its weekend scheduling and quick-paced excitement creates party-like atmospheres.

Games are only 14 minutes in length with the first match starting at 9 a.m., and the Cup Final slated for 6:10 p.m.

For players like Phil Mack, who has captained Canada to several international trophies overseas, it’s a chance to play in front of the home crowd and grow the game where it matters.

“It’s huge,” said Mack. “The sport needs more exposure and this is the first step.”

And it gets even bigger.

The Buccaneer Sevens tournament is the first and among the largest of six rugby sevens contests taking place across the province this summer.

But there’s an even bigger sevens event brewing for the capital region.

Last week, organizers announced that a Rugby Canada sanctioned tournament will take place at the University of Victoria, July 15 and 16.

Mexico and the Cayman Islands are confirmed, and the U.S. team is expected to accept its invitation. Canada will field either one or two select teams picked from the stable of international sevens players.

“It’s an event we’re starting small and keeping to eight teams this year,” UVic Vikes coach Doug Tate said.

“The plan is to get it off the ground and take it into Royal Athletic Park next summer. We want to create a downtown festival, an event that takes advantage of Victoria in the summer, where people can come and go from the stadium throughout the weekend.”

CEO Graham Brown of Rugby Canada said the governing body hopes to sanction five more sevens tournaments like Victoria’s across Canada in Calgary, Saskatoon, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax.

Even with solid corporate support for the Victoria International 7s, Canada is a long ways from hosting one of the International Rugby Board’s elite sevens events.

“An IRB Sevens event is the ultimate goal but it’s not realistic right now in terms of cash up front,” Brown said.

“It would have to happen in Vancouver or Toronto, but right now we’re focused on getting a women’s event, as the women’s sevens is growing incrementally.”

Buccaneer sked

For Phil Mack, who played for the Vikes in club play the past two years, the Buccaneer Days tourney means a return to his James Bay colours.

Mack will suit up with a very experienced squad featuring internationals Morgan and Jeff Williams, Thyssen de Goede, Neil Meechan, John Moonlight, Connor Braid and others.

There’s no official UVic team, but expect to see a few of UVic’s speedier players on the Fire Fighting team, led by sevens ace Sean Duke, as well as on the Rooks, a mix of Vikes and Castaway-Wanderers.

Also entering in the men’s elite division are Velox, the Bayside Fijians, and touring rep teams Old Puget Sound Beach RFC, South Seas Connection, Globan Fijian Lighthouse, Canadian Navy, and the always strong Dog River Howlers RFC out of Saskatchewan.

Entering the women’s division are James Bay, the Velox Valkyries, Burnaby Lake and the Emerald City Mudhens from Seattle. Up for grabs is $2,500 for winning the elite men’s and $1,000 for the elite women’s.