- Associated Press - Saturday, July 11, 2015

TORONTO (AP) - It’s fast, there’s plenty of contact, lots of scoring and games are over in 20 minutes.

It’s rugby sevens, and it’s a bit of a mystery for some attending the Pan Am Games, just as it will be next year in Rio de Janeiro where rugby returns to the Olympics after a 92-year absence.

Not only is the game fast-paced, but it’s compact. Organizers crammed 21 matches into two sessions on Saturday, nine of which were women’s games. Sunday features 21 more.

“You can see a lot of different nationalities play because you get a few minutes of each, and that’s it,” said Caitlin Russell, who traveled from the western city of Calgary to watch the Pan Am Games. “You don’t waste much time.”

To be fair, the sport is easily understood and followed in rugby-playing countries like New Zealand or Australia, but not so much in the North America, or in Olympic-host country Brazil.

“I think it’s very fan-friendly once people understand what it is they should be watching for,” said Caitlin’s father Tony.

The game agreed with Canadian fans on Saturday as Canada won by lopsided scores. Canada’s women defeated Colombia 55-0, and Mexico 60-0. The Canadian men won over Guyana 45-0.

Saturday drew largely a family crowd, good for organizers but bad for Judy Hachiles who was selling beer at the soccer stadium of FC Toronto, where the two days of sevens are played.

“To put it in context,” Hachiles said, “today I only made about 15 dollars in tips when usually it’s up about 60. They didn’t drink much beer, that’s for sure.”

The Olympic discipline of rugby sevens is one of three versions of the sport, with fewer players and shorter matches than the 15-player rugby union or 13-player rugby league. Sevens - the name comes from the number of players on each team - combines the passing and contact of American football, and the kicking skills of soccer.

“It’s really the best of all our favorite sports put together,” Caitlin Russell said.

That’s exactly the feeling of American player Carlin Isles, who is known widely as the “Fastest Man in Rugby.”

“I love to have that title,” Isles said Saturday after the Americans defeated Mexico 48-0 in one of their matches.

The United States has already qualified for the Olympics, and Isles figures Brazilian fans will enjoy watching him run. He has world-class sprinter speed with a best of 10.13 seconds, had overtures from the NFL, but was drawn to sevens three years ago after seeing it on the internet.

“The way Usain Bolt is in track and field, I want to be like that in rugby,” said Isles, who grew up in Massillon, Ohio, and attended Ashland University in the state.

Isles said he had the same problem most new fans have trying to decipher the game.

“It took me about a month to grasp as much as I could, but it still took me three years to finally start realizing different things. I’m still learning,” he said.


Stephen Wade on Twitter: https://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP

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