On one side of AT&T Park baseball stadium in San Francisco, just beside the bright yellow foul pole, a small digital sign reads “71”. It’s the number of times a home run has been hit out of the park and directly into the bay that splashes up against the ground since it opened back in 2000.
While it’s unlikely that number will be added to during Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 in July 2018, any San Francisco Giants fans who decide to head along can still expect to see plenty of big hits.
With the city famously located on the shaky San Andreas Fault, AT&T Park was built to be earthquake proof, so it will be capable of withstanding a big tackle from Alev Kelter or Folau Niua, or a monster fend from DJ Forbes. So far, so good.
When those aforementioned Giants fans do come along, they will see their ballpark transformed into a world-class rugby venue worthy of hosting the prestigious RWC Sevens. The top international teams – men’s and women’s – will arrive in the Bay Area ready to put on a show and there could be no better stage than this.
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “We wanted to take this tournament to another iconic stadium in another vibrant city. It has been held in Hong Kong Stadium, The 7evens in Dubai, Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Mar del Plata in Argentina, Murrayfield in Edinburgh and now, for the first time in North America, it will be AT&T Park.
“A delegation from World Rugby this week inspected the venue and the reports back are positive. Of course there will be technical challenges converting a space designed for baseball into one for rugby but the end result is going to be worth every bit of that hard work. Teams, supporters, attending media and those millions watching around the world on television are in for a real treat.”
Having won both the men's and women's events at the RWC Sevens 2013 in Moscow, 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.
Beaumont said: "The success of rugby sevens at the recent Olympic Games in Rio gave the game a huge shot in the arm 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.
Apart from being a great place to stage any major event, World Rugby has identified the USA as an important market for the game. Rugby is growing rapidly throughout America and, in particular, sevens is capturing the imaginations of sports fans coast to coast. The strength of the women’s game there is another factor that makes the future of the sport so bright Stateside.