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Utah HSers Get Some 7s In

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Utah HSers Get Some 7s In

Utah back on the field for a few weeks at least.

While rugby has been shut down through much of the country, Utah Youth Rugby was able to run a series of modified 7s games for high school teams during July.

Many of the well-known teams within Utah played, both boys and girls. United, Herriman, West Valley, East HS, Wasatch, Copper Hills, Genesis, Kearns, Olympus, and Brighton, to name just a few, were involved. 

Teams were divided into groups and played a small number of games each day within their group. The games were full tackle, but there were no rucks, mauls, or scrums. Restarts were quick-taps, and after a tackle, a player just laid the ball back and play continued.

Why Could They Play?

The State of Utah has allowed contact sports in most of the Utah, and various counties allowed play with some requirements that needed to be followed by sports organizers. Utah Youth Rugby followed those protocols, and in keeping with the USA Rugby Return to Play Guidelines saw they had reached Stage 4. Stage 4 allowed contests with limited contact and uncontested scrums, rucks, and mails (UYR just eliminated them altogether), and so the games proceeded within those parameters. (At Stage 4, the USA Rugby insurance kicks in, also.)

The games were played in Utah County, which is south of Salt Lake City and incorporates Provo, Orem, and Alpine. That was the location because Utah County was open for sports competition while Salt Lake County, which includes Salt Lake City, was not.

The games were scored but there wasn't a big trophy after each event. It was more a chance to give young players a chance to take the field. As a result, teams were allowed to loan out players, and some merged teams participated just to get the games in.

"It was good, especially for seniors who missed out on spring 15s," said Colin Puriri, who coaches the United boys and the United girls. Like a lot of players, Puriri said "I've been watching the Super Rugby from New Zealand and I miss the excitement of not only coaching but watching them play, and even practicing."

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It's fair to say that Utah was not hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been 39,714 confirmed cases, with almost half of those in Salt Lake County, and just over 300 deaths, with Salt Lake County account for about 56% of those. Utah ranks in the bottom half of US states in confirmed cases per 1 Million residents, and the state's fatility rate with COVID-19 is the lowest in the nation.

Rules Adjustments

The no rucks/mauls/scrums was a rule adaptation to limit COVID-19 exposure, and organizers took other measures as well.

The groups checked in and played one at a time. So group A would show up, play their games, and leave, and then Group B would show up, play their games, and leave.

All players and coaches were screened with a temperature check and questions regarding exposure on check-in.

"We achieved the objective," said Utah Youth Rugby President Owen Power. "We got some rugby going. It was a bit of a learning experience for us, such as with coming to grips with the check-in process."

It didn't take long to train those checking in the players, though, and Power said he expects that kind of check-in to be standard operating procedure for some time to come.

Protocols

Coaches wore masks, and UYR tried to keep out spectators, but found that was very difficult to do. They did manage to keep social distancing among the families that came to watch, but Power said that anyone looking into such an event would be better off with a fenced field that affords some access control.

During the games, every time the ball went dead it was replaced, with the old ball getting a full sanitizer treatment and left to sit for a while, and a new, sanitized ball put into play. This, said Power, required a lot of sanitizer and some attention to detail.

UYR also paid attention to what was happening in the community. If players were exposed to a risky COVID situation (say a family gathering where several people turned out to be COVID positive), then the players wouldn't play, and sometimes the teams wouldn't play. UYR even canceled two of the competition weekends to mitigate risk.

New Tactics

As far as the rugby goes, it was played with a ton of enthusiasm, and as the summer wore on, players realized that the rules changed encourage avoiding contact and looking for space.

This forced some very good teams to change their tactics. The West Valley Warriors have always liked their contact, but they found that they had to adjust their game plan a little. United have always been good at poaching the ball in the ruck, but with no rucks, had to be more patient on defense.

Meanwhile, some teams with smaller players found they could hang with the bigger teams.

 Fall 7s?

The hope remains that there will be HS 7s in Utah this fall. Power said that's the expectation, but the big day is August 7, because that's when the State of Utah will look at the various counties and decide whether to change their status. Currently 10 counties are in Green status (New Normal), and 17 are in Yellow (Low-Risk). But three counties remain in Moderate Risk (Orange) including Salt Lake City. Realistically the HS league needs Salt Lake City to be in Yellow.