For many, Chicago is the centre of the sporting world at the moment. With the Cubs winning baseball’s World Series for the first time in more than a century, residents of the Windy City will still be on a high by the time lovers of the oval ball invade their town for a wonderful weekend of top rugby action.
But long after the Eagles have hosted the Maori All Blacks at Toyota Park and New Zealand have taken on Ireland at Soldier Field, USA will still be a focal point for the global game as preparations continue towards the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 in San Francisco. With just over 600 days to go before that event kicks off at the iconic AT&T Park, the famous Melrose Cup - seen above being lifted by Fiji's legendary Waisale Serevi in 1997 - is now in America with fans getting a chance to see the trophy this weekend.
Home of the San Francisco Giants, AT&T Park will provide a spectacular backdrop to the four-day tournament in July 2018 that features 24 men's and 16 women's teams competing for the title of world champions. The 42,000-seater stadium is one of the most familiar and highly rated sports venues in the USA and is located in downtown San Francisco, along the waterfront overlooking the bay.
This will be the seventh staging of the tournament, which has previously been held in Edinburgh, Hong Kong (twice), Mar del Plata, Dubai and Moscow. Having won both the men's and women's events at the famous Russian venue of Luzhniki Stadium, New Zealand will be back to defend their titles but will likely face considerable resistance in the form of Olympic gold medallists Australia (women's) and Fiji (men's), not to mention strong home competition from both USA sides.
Rugby sevens on a high
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: "The success of rugby sevens at the recent Olympic Games in Rio gave the game huge impetus and we are working hard to ensure its popularity continues to rise in the coming years. Part of that is building on the success of previous RWC Sevens tournaments, which come at the mid-point in the Olympic cycle.
"Rugby – both men’s and women’s – is growing rapidly in the USA so where better to host a vibrant and exciting tournament like this than Stateside? And we are delighted that AT&T Park will be the venue, providing spectators with great facilities and affording the teams the sort of stage befitting of their athleticism and skills.
“With so much top-class rugby going on in Chicago this weekend, it will be an added bonus for the Melrose Cup to be on display as thoughts will gradually shift towards RWC Sevens 2018.”
USA Rugby Chief Executive Dan Payne said: “It's a great honour to bring the Melrose Cup to Chicago, the United States’ latest championship city. It’s only fitting that the top trophy in sevens is in town for the celebrations taking place. We can't wait to bring Rugby World Cup Sevens to the Bay Area in 2018 and expose our great game to the entire country.
“It’s no secret that we are the fastest-growing team sport in the USA and an event of this magnitude will only continue that trend. We're even more excited that the youth of America will get to see this event and the world’s top stars compete and think: ‘Someday that could be me.’ Not only is the Melrose Cup with us in Chicago but it will travel with me all over the country while we continue to grow the game in every community across America.”
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