The stars, the stripes, the Seve
Las Vegas has got into the rugby spirit with the USA Sevens tournament. and discovers the sport is only the start of the excitement.
Six guys, one book, wads of cash and plenty of rugby. This is the Las Vegas Sevens. It starts with head-tohead betting, but it soon becomes evident these guys sitting next to me know nothing about the sport they are putting their money on.
‘‘I’ll put $35 on Brazil,’’ says one man, effectively throwing his money in the trash.
The thing is, when Brazil and Australia play in football, and for Americans, that means soccer, Brazil would be the favourite.
When they’re playing rugby sevens, there’s only ever one winner, and it isn’t the Portuguese-speaking South Americans.
‘‘Yeah, I’ll put $20 on Brazil too, dude,’’ says another, thinking his friend must know something. He doesn’t. I lean to the guy next to me. ‘‘Australia are gonna win this by at least 40. Don’t bet on Brazil.’’
Fourteen minutes later, my newly rich American neighbour thanks me after Australia’s 45-0 win, and the betting takes a turn to rugby roulette.
‘‘OK, what number scores the first try? Odds or evens?’’ Only in Las Vegas, right? This is the USA Sevens tournament at Las Vegas’ Sam Boyd Stadium, a 30-minute drive from the Las Vegas Strip.
More than 75,000 people pack into this stadium over the three days of competition, showing uncommon passion in a sport that barely rates amention in the United States.
American rugby fans dominate the crowd, but there are also huge pockets of fans for other nations.
Fijian and Samoan American communities flood the ground, travelling from throughout the country to cheer on their home nations.
Kenyan fans take up nearly an entire section of Sam Boyd Stadium, creating an atmosphere more like an African football match than an American rugby tournament.
The Americans can be spotted wearing the stars and stripes, Captain America outfits or simply American flag-flavoured underwear.
At least two people were wearing that revealing outfit. If there is one thing Americans do well, it’s entertainment, and the Las Vegas Sevens are no different.
In New Zealand there is a reliance on the on-field action to provide all of the entertainment crowds crave.
Americans have known for a long time that the on-field action can only capture your attention for so long, and that they need to keep you entertained in the dull moments.
Kiss cam makes an appearance each day in Vegas, as does the United States Air Force when jet fighters fly overhead to launch the day two action.
After a US servicewoman had belted out the Star Spangled Banner, the sight of two fighter jets came up on the big screen. The goosebumps arrive as the crowd rise in unison, fireworks following as the jet fighters fly low over the stadium.
There are on-field competitions, T-shirt giveaways, and the stadiumMCgets his boogie on in the crowd, taking his shirt off to the disapproval of anyone with eyes.
They even have Cirque du Soleil – Zarkana perform a 15-minute routine between matches, which wows the crowd as much as the sevens itself.
The actual sevens is pretty good, too.
Some of the best moments are reserved for the home side, obviously, and boy do they turn it on. The United States make the semifinals, chants of USA go up as they beat Canada in the final match of day two, setting up a clash against the mighty New Zealand sevens team.
Of course, New Zealand eased past the USA come semifinal time, but the mighty home side had already captured the imagination of their home fans.
Performances like this mean the crowd could exceed 80,000 come 2016, and who knows where it will go from there.
Away from the sevens there is always plenty to do, and you need
Bright Lights: The Las Vegas Strip, home to some of America’s biggest and brashest tourist magnets.
Spectacle: Cirque du Soleil Zarkana perform a 15-minute routine during the Las Vegas Sevens atSamBoyd