Look, Ma: No Helmet!

Las Vegas has been called the capital of many things in its day—rugby is not one of them. But for one weekend this month, our city is at the center of the scrum. As many as 70,000 fans are expected at Sam Boyd Stadium for the USA Sevens international rugby tournament Feb. 10-12. Meanwhile, more than 230 teams are slated to play in another tournament, the Las Vegas Invitational, starting Feb. 9 at the Silver Bowl Sports Complex.

The Invitational has grown into America’s biggest club rugby tournament. And at the elite international level, the USA Sevens has become a key stop on the nine-event global circuit.

But rugby is far from just a once-a-year fascination for Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Blackjacks rugby squad was USA Division I club champions in 2010. The Las Vegas Slots are a burgeoning women’s club. And the Las Vegas Rugby Academy is teaching kids all over the city how to play.

“It’s been a great experience, and with the USA Sevens here we’ve been able to expose a lot of kids to this game,” says Vaha Esikia, who was the center for the USA in the 2007 Rugby World Cup and now runs the academy. “We talk about the sportsmanship and the mutual respect between opponents. It’s great.”

“For us in 2010, the championship was the icing on the cake,” says Mike Palefau, a member of the Blackjacks’ title squad who will play for the American team at this year’s USA Sevens tournament. “But I think what’s more important is what Vaha is doing. The key to success is to get kids playing at a young age and develop our own brand of rugby. Kids playing rugby in the streets, backyards, and little league would be awesome!”