Panache on the pitch

Speed, confidence essential to shorter, faster game of rugby

Fourth-year winger Graham Turner competed with Queen’s in Langford
Image by: Alex Choi
Fourth-year winger Graham Turner competed with Queen’s in Langford

Former 100m sprinter Carlin Isles abruptly made the switch from track to rugby sevens.

Isles’ sevens success rests on dazzling speed, but he recently told The Associated Press, “You’ve got to have that cool swagger about you.”

Sevens is played with seven aside in 14-minute games, unlike the more traditional “fifteens” rugby. More tries are scored at a rapid pace.

Women’s rugby player Nadia Popov couldn’t agree more with Isles’ notion.

“Sometimes you need that confidence or that extra swagger in order to even appear confident,” said Popov, last fall’s OUA rookie of the year. “So if you do miss a tackle, you can get up and say, ‘come at me again.’”

Normally a fifteens player, Popov’s well aware of the differences. With fewer players, one-on-one battles are fiercer than in “fifteens” rugby and the stakes are higher for missed tackles.

“It’s like in the wild,” she said. “Animals, if they sense the fear, they’re going to come at you every time.”

Several Queen’s players have thrived at the “sevens” game — soon to be played on the Olympic stage. The men’s team recently travelled to Victoria, B.C. to compete against other CIS sevens teams.

Second-year Gaels forward Gill Pegg first played sevens this past summer with the Canadian FISU team — a melange of University rugby players competing against other countries.

Fit and speedy backs normally excel in sevens but Pegg was selected for the high-profile tournament as a forward. She said speed isn’t everything, although it can’t be overlooked.

“It’s a lot shorter, but it’s one of the most tiring sports ever because you’re sprinting the entire time,” she said. “Being on defence is the worst possible thing. You’ve sometimes got to chase back and forth.”

Pegg added that it makes for an entertaining show with the average viewer attracted to a simplified, fast-paced version of the sport. But she’s still uneasy with the decision to make sevens an Olympic sport over fifteens.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love sevens,” she said. “But in my opinion, fifteens is the older game of rugby and it’s the classic game of rugby — it’s more what rugby’s made to be.”

Men’s rugby winger Graham Turner said the decision to add sevens to the Olympics gives more countries an opportunity to compete and shine.

“If you look at the [sevens World Cup qualifiers], I think there are 16 teams who play in each tournament,” Turner said. “And a lot of countries competing now aren’t ‘rugby countries’ but they have the chance to play in the Olympics.”

The wide open field is ready for the world’s fittest athletes to exploit, with somewhat less refined rugby-specific skills.

The most recent example is Isles — the sevens player Turner tabbed as “the fastest man in rugby.” Turner saw Isles play when he competed with an Ontario side in a Las Vegas annual sevens tournament.

“You see the YouTube videos, but you can’t really appreciate it until you see it in person — just how fast he is. He’s definitely a pretty good weapon,” Turner said.

“But time will tell if it’s a publicity stunt or if it’s for real.”


Feature, Gaels, Gill Pegg, Graham Turner, Nadia Popov, Sevens Rugby

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