Rugby returned to the Olympic programme at Rio 2016, when the Sevens format provided a captivating showcase for this pacy and thrilling team sport.
The aim of Rugby is to convey an oval-shaped ball to the goal line located at the opposing team's end of the field and earn points for doing so. This is achieved by running with the ball, passing and kicking it. Rugby differs from other ball sports in that the ball must be passed backwards between players as they advance towards their opponents' goal line. Much of the sport's appeal lies in the players' speedy interplay and total commitment.
Rugby's roots can be traced back to the sport of football as it was played in English public schools during the 19th century. During a football match at Rugby School in 1823, a young player named William Webb-Ellis suddenly picked up the ball and ran with it towards the goal. His act marked the creation of a totally new sport.
Rugby School gave the sport its name and developed its first set of rules. The Rugby Football Union was founded in 1871, and the International Rugby Board - now known as World Rugby - was established in 1886.
Today, two types of rugby are played around the world (Rugby Union and Rugby League) using slightly different rules and numbers of players (15 per side in Union, 13 in League). In its Olympic incarnation, Rugby follows the Union code and employs a popular format with only seven players per team, known as Sevens.
Rugby was played at Paris 1900, London 1908, Antwerp 1920 and Paris 1924 with 15-a-side men's teams, after which came a long absence until the sport returned in its seven-a-side format at the Rio 2016 Games. A women's event was also held for the first time in Rio.
International Federation: World Rugby
- 12-team tournament (Men/Women)
Intense action and crunching tackles
Like the 15-a-side game, Rugby Sevens is played on a pitch measuring approximately 70m x 100m. Unlike the 15-a-side game, which comprises two 40-minute halves, Sevens matches are much shorter at only seven minutes per half (10 in the final). There are very few breaks in play and only a two-minute half-time interval. With so few players on such a large field, physical fitness and endurance are paramount.
There are four ways to score in Rugby:
- The try, earning five points, in which a player carries the ball over the goal line and then touches it to the ground;
- The conversion, earning two points, in which a player kicks the ball between the goalposts after a try;
- The three-point drop goal, in which a player kicks the ball between the goalposts during regular gameplay; and
- The three-point penalty kick, awarded after an infringement by the opposing team.
Teams consist of three forwards and four backs, and each team can substitute up to five players during a game. All players in Rugby Sevens must be skilful in both attack and defence, able to run quickly, pass accurately and tackle effectively to bring an opposing runner to the ground.
Countering the All Blacks' power and passion
A total of 12 teams will compete for medals in both the men's and women's competitions at Tokyo 2020.
New Zealand, known as the All Blacks, are the sport's traditional powerhouse. They are the reigning champions at the 15-a-side Rugby World Cup, the seven-a-side Rugby World Cup Sevens and numerous other major international tournaments, and have been top of the world rankings since November 2009.
The Rio 2016 tournament provided something of an upset as New Zealand's men failed to win a medal. Gold, silver and bronze were taken by Fiji, Great Britain and South Africa respectively. Their women were runners-up to Australia with Canada finishing third. Rest assured the All Blacks will come to the Tokyo 2020 Games eager to put on a show of strength.
The 15-a-side Rugby World Cup will take place in Japan in 2019, offering an exciting opportunity to see some of the teams that will compete at Tokyo 2020.
- Tokyo Stadium