Wolverines, Prairie Fire prepare for battle in Thompson Cup
Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - Submitted by Sean Trembath
The North Saskatchewan Wolverines are gearing up to make rugby history this weekend. The team, made up of the top rugby players from Northern Saskatchewan, will battle the Regina Prairie Fire in the inaugural Thompson Cup on Saturday in Regina.
Although the Wolverines and the Prairie Fire have been competing for provincial rugby bragging rights for years, this match will have a new look. It will be the first ever competed under Ultra Sevens rugby rules. Ultra Sevens is a new modified version of sevenman rugby designed to appeal to a North American audience.
"I think it's going to make for something really exciting," said Brennan Marcoux, player-coach for the Wolverines.
The idea for the new rule set came from Regina's Karl Fix, who has spent years promoting rugby in Saskatchewan with his travelling team, the Dog River Howlers.
Traditional sevens rugby has been gaining momentum in recent years, due largely to it being much easier for someone unfamiliar with rugby to follow the action. Games take place on the same field as 15-man rugby, meaning there is much more space. As a result, sevens games are extremely fast-paced and action-packed.
According to Fix, the problem with the traditional sevens format is the length of the matches. A match consists of two seven-minute halves. Sevens matches take place in a tournament format, often over several days and with 16 or more teams. The format does not lend itself to television, and a tournament takes longer than a casual fan wants to spend at a sporting event.
That's where Fix's Ultra Sevens rules come in. Under the new rules, matches consist of four 15-minute quarters, a setup he hopes will instantly appeal to North American Football fans.
Longer games necessitated a change in substitution rules. In traditional sevens, teams have only 10 players, and once one of the initial seven players substitutes out of the game, they cannot return. With so much field to cover, it's incredibly arduous.
"(Sevens) is the worst seven minutes of your life," said Marcoux.
Under the new rules, teams will have 23-man rosters. Players will switch on and off the field as much as they need.
"It's going to more or less look like shifting in a hockey game," said Marcoux. The constant stream of fresh players should lead to a high pace for the entire game.
Although the Wolverines are excited to try the new rules, Marcoux admitted the first game could be a bit of a challenge.
"It's pretty new to everyone involved, so I think when we get into a game we'll get a better handle on it," he said.
Saturday's match is the only one planned so far under the new rules, but the Ultra Sevens organization plans to make it a yearly event. If the format catches on, they hope to eventually form a league.
Kickoff for the first ever Thompson Cup will be 4: 30 p.m. Saturday at the Regina Rugby Club.