San Fran­cisco is host­ing the Rugby World Cup Sevens at AT & T Park in July

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - ESCAPE - WORDS GREG ROBERTS

It’s a boys – and girls – own ad­ven­ture hol­i­day. Not only do you go to an ex­cit­ing des­ti­na­tion such as Cal­i­for­nia, but you also get to watch a rugby world cup there. You read that right: three full days of rugby in base­ball and grid­iron-lov­ing Amer­ica. AT & T Park in San Fran­cisco, the iconic home of the 135-year-old Gi­ants base­ball team, will be trans­formed into a rugby pitch in the mid­dle of the base­ball sea­son in July this year for the Rugby World Cup Sevens event. AT & T Park is a beau­ti­ful 42,000 ca­pac­ity ball­park on San Fran­cisco Bay with views of the wa­ter – some fans get there on a kayak.

It seems sac­ri­le­gious to play rugby on a field that con­jures up im­ages of Amer­ica’s pas­time and hot dogs. But rugby’s pop­u­lar­ity in the US and po­ten­tial for growth is not to be un­der­es­ti­mated and it is the fastest-grow­ing team sport in US col­leges and high schools.

Or­gan­is­ers say San Fran­cisco is the best place in Amer­ica to host the Rugby Sevens World Cup and are keen for rugby fans from around Aus­tralia to travel to the city for it.

“We are the most di­verse, most cos­mopoli­tan city. This is an event city,” says Pat Gal­lagher, a for­mer se­nior ex­ec­u­tive at the Gi­ants.

He also helped or­gan­ise the NFL Su­per­bowl when it was held in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area in 2015, an ex­pe­ri­ence he co-wrote a busi­ness book about. He said he al­ways wanted AT & T Park to host rugby from his days in charge of Gi­ants En­ter­prises.

San Fran­cisco is the coun­try’s tra­di­tional gay cap­i­tal, has al­ways had high im­mi­gra­tion and is his­tor­i­cally as­so­ci­ated with the coun­ter­cul­ture in­clud­ing the beat gen­er­a­tion, hip­pies, sex­ual revo­lu­tion, sum­mer of love and anti-war move­ment.

More re­cently there is the tech boom with Sil­i­con Val­ley an hour’s drive away. The city is as di­verse, non-main­stream and lib­eral as it gets in the US; not a lot of Don­ald Trump sup­port­ers here.

The world cup’s gen­eral man­ager, Rosie Spauld­ing, says lo­cals and busi­nesses are em­brac­ing the event and look­ing for­ward to fans that get dressed up from around the world vis­it­ing, with plenty of pageantry or­gan­ised on and off the field to cel­e­brate teams from Poly­ne­sia, Africa and so on.

Nearly half or 56,000 tick­ets had been sold in Fe­bru­ary with most peo­ple buy­ing a three­day pass for the event.

There will be rugby play­ers from 28 na­tions par­tic­i­pat­ing, rep­re­sent­ing 24 mens and 16 womens teams. There will be 32 matches on the first of three days and it will be broad­cast lo­cally on NBC.

“Peo­ple love the fact its men and women, all those na­tions and rugby’s core val­ues res­onate well with the Bay Area and cor­po­ra­tions even if they don’t know about rugby: in­clu­siv­ity, cul­tural aware­ness,” Ms Spauld­ing said. San Fran­cisco is al­ready a de­sir­able “des­ti­na­tion city” but add a rugby world cup to it and that makes it even more so, says Al­fonso Felder, an ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent at the Gi­ants.

“What would oth­er­wise be a great va­ca­tion, this is a cherry on top,” he said. “You can come to this part of the coun­try and spend seven days and be busy ev­ery day see­ing some of the world’s most re­mark­able sights, whether it’s the coast be­tween here and the big surf, head­ing north and en­joy­ing the beauty of Marin County and the wine coun­try at Napa and Sonoma, it’s a re­ally easy trip frankly.” Cross the wa­ter on the Golden Gate Bridge on a bike and the con­trast of go­ing from one of Amer­ica’s big­gest cities to a ru­ral area is stark. Then catch a ferry back.

Gal­lagher rec­om­mends vis­i­tors dive into San Fran­cisco’s foodie cul­ture, when they are not watch­ing rugby, and wan­der around the Ferry Build­ing and Mis­sion district, en­joy­ing food, wine and beers.

“San Fran­cisco is like a 49 square mile theme park. There’s dif­fer­ent dis­tricts de­pend­ing on what the na­tion­al­ity is. You’ve got the Mis­sion district with its own vibe to Chi­na­town and North Beach,” he said.

The writer trav­elled as a guest of San Fran­cisco Travel.

When not watch­ing the rugby sevens at AT&T Park, bot­tom right, cross the Golden Gate bridge, above, to wan­der around the Ferry Build­ing, top right, and Mis­sion district

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