Until July, Miles Craigwell had never touched a Rugby ball. Yes, July of 2010. Now he’s playing sevens for the U.S.A. Eagle.
Cut by the Miami Dolphins and faced with the choice of being a practise football player, Craigwell headed back to his native Boston. At just 24, Craigwell, who’d been a stellar college football player in the Ivy League at Brown University, was left to contemplate his future.
Back home something coincidental happened. You might even call it fate.
“I was sitting in a diner just eating,” Craigwell said. “And I turned to look at the TV and the Collegiate Sevens on NBC were playing and I looked and I saw the athleticism out there, the pace of the game … and I was just like this is what I want to play.”
He was wowed.
He called his agent and told him to find whomever he needed to speak to. To make it happen. Soon he was in touch with U.S. Sevens coach Al Caravelli and was learning the basics of Rugby.
Within a couple of months he’d been called to duty for the national team and was heading abroad to play in the Dubai IRB Sevens tournament.
Craigwell and the other American players believe that, with Sevens Rugby becoming an Olympic event in 2016, there could be more crossover between American Football and Rugby. NBC has also begun scheduling Rugby programming more often – including live broadcasting of all the U.S. games for the Rugby World Cup this year.
“It’s really up and coming with the Olympics coming up,” Craigwell said. “The national broadcasting of NBC should market the sport very well and American athletes and little kids hopefully will be inspired to play Rugby and love the sport as much as I do.”
His captain, Matt Hawkins, agrees, saying Rugby in the States is “exploding.”
They’re seeing signs of a groundswell everywhere they go. At a recent Olympic Sevens tournament in California, almost 600 kids showed up. The players found themselves in an unfamiliar limelight, signing autographs and chatting with their fans.
Craigwell, who bubbles with good-humored enthusiasm, says he loves the athleticism of his newly adopted game. While American Football requires explosive bursts of energy in four-second segments, a Sevens game is 14 minutes of exhausting action.
He likes that.
He also likes the places Rugby is taking him. He looked around appreciatively at the team’s Evans Bay training grounds in Wellington. “Now I’m in New Zealand,” he said. “It’s surreal.”
He’s already played tournaments in Dubai and South Africa and he hopes, “God willing,” that his body will last the tribulations of Rugby long enough to get him to Rio de Janiero for the 2016 Summer Olympics. To help his country bring a medal home. After all, the U.S. are the defending Olympic Rugby champions, bringing home the gold medal for 15-man Rugby in 1920 and 1924, the last time Rugby was part of the Olympics.
Adrian Pratt, US Embassy, Wellington
USA Men’s Eagle Sevens coach, Al Caravelli, has announced the 12-man squad he will take to Wellington and Las Vegas for the next two stages in the HSBC Sevens World Series. Caravelli said that camp was extremely productive and a good indication of the mental preparedness of the squad.
Two-a-day trainings and stiff competition were on the program for the current player pool.
“We have worked a lot on defense, communication and mental strength, the latter being one of the highlights of the camp,” said Caravelli. “Focusing on our goal of keeping a consistent core of players, we made only three changes between the last tournament and the Wellington and Las Vegas stages.”
The U.S. Men’s Eagle Sevens team will be arriving in Wellington the last week of this month. Expectations are high. The Sevens game suits the United States, known for the speed and stamina of its Rugby players. Now that the game will be added to the Olympics, in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, there will be even more focus on Sevens in the United States.
The Americans have had some success at the Wellington Sevens tournament, which begins Feb. 4, winning the Shield both last year and in 2008. There are four main prizes to be won at a Sevens tournament. The overall winners receive the Cup, then, in descending order of prestige, there is the bowl, the plate and the shield.
The best way to describe the shield winner is that it goes to the best of the third- or fourth-place finishers after initial group play. It’s still silverware, and that’s what counts. The U.S. won the Shield by beating Tonga, after first besting Scotland in the semi-final. Nice wins. Nice shield.
Also last year, the United States played in the finals for the Cup in Adelaide and won the Bowl against France at home. It’s been a little tougher going this year, but everyone is coming into the Wellington tournament with heads and hope held high. The IRB Sevens World Series consists of eight individual tournaments in seven countries across the globe and is played over several months. The team with the most points at the end of the series is crowned champion. The world series is now in its 11th year.
As mentioned in the post below, we will have the chance to catch up with the U.S. Sevens team when they arrive in Wellington at the end of the month. We’ll also bring you pictures and blogs about the craziness that is the Wellington Sevens.
Just quickly, here’s the schedule for the United States team at the Wellington Sevens tournament starting February 4.
Adrian Pratt, U.S. Embassy, Wellington
Wellington is girding itself for the arrival of the Sevens Tournament. More than one wag has referred to the Sevens Weekend as Wellington’s Mardi Gras. There are even beads.
The tournament, in which the United States is participating, will be held Feb. 4 and Feb. 5 at Westpac Stadium. It’s the third of eight IRB Sevens World Series events.
Those are just the boring details, though. The Sevens attract about 30,000 visitors every year and, let’s say, it can get a little wild. There are even cheerleaders. To view their routines, some of which are a little unfortunate, you can check here. Many of the visitors dress up – flamboyantly. Action heroes, cartoon characters, nurses, Smurfs, mullets, doctors with portable IV-drips (probably with life-saving nectar in them) and everything in between can be seen on the streets of this fair city.
The whole town basically disintegrates into a fancy dress party occasionally interrupted by Rugby games – except when New Zealand is playing. Then it gets serious. (New Zealand has won the IRB Sevens Series more than anyone else, and the New Zealanders take their Rugby, including the Sevens, very seriously.) Even those who don’t have tickets to the games dress up and head into the entertainment district.
Apparently there is alcohol involved.
Oh, yeah, back to the Rugby. This year the United States is in Pool A, with England, Wales and the Cook Islands. It’s a difficult group. Not that there’s such a thing, really, as an easy game in Sevens: It’s the great equalizer format. Normal Rugby has 15 players. With less than half that, Sevens relies much more on speed. The defending champions are Fiji.
The United States team will be arriving at the end of January for training. They’re hoping to have a couple of scrimmage games. Perhaps even one against the Kiwis. We’ll post pictures and interviews.
Adrian Pratt, U.S. Embassy, Wellington
The votes are in, the teams chosen.
The USA Single Ladies, consisting of Gabrielle Stewart, Acushla Dee O’Carroll and Mahina-a-rangi Baker, won the vote to become the cheerleading squad for the American team during the 2011 Sevens tournament in Wellington.
The three ladies filmed a video around Wellington and the submitted it for online voting. Their video is based on a Beyonce song. In fact, on their video, the ladies refer to themselves as Gayonce, Deeonce, and Mayonce.
They were trying out to represent the USA team and were successful. The Single Ladies were one of 45 acts that took part in the voting for the great celebration that is The Sevens tournament in Wellington. You can watch their video entry on our earlier blog post.
You can read about their reactions in this wonderful Dominion-Post article here: Sevens-single-ladies-set-to-fire-things-up
Everyone here at RugbyUSA offers hearty congratulations to The Single Ladies and hopes they have a blast in February. Maybe they can do something just as good with The Eagles in RWC 2011. Best of luck.