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The Las Vegas Invitational Tournament (LVI) is the official tournament for all ages and skill levels associated with the USA Sevens International Tournament and Festival. The LVI gives players a chance to participate and play over the days preceding the USA 7s, which is the United States stop on the HSBC IRB World 7s Series.

The Invitational Tournament is for every type of club and team, said Tournament Director Jon Hinkin. The LVI deatures club teams from across the USA and Canada, as well as select sides from around the world. More than 100 teams competed in 2010, and that number is expected to grow in 2011.

Youth, U19, college, club, women, women's elite, men's elite, and all level of 7s will be played at the LVI. We checked in with Hinkin to discuss what has become one of the biggest and certainly the most diverse rugby tournament in the USA.

RUGBYMag.com: We're hearing a lot about the CRC 7s Division at the LVI. What exactly is it?
Jon Hinkin: The Men’s CRC 7s division is the qualifying division for the CRC 7s tournament to be held in Philadelphia the first weekend of June, live on NBC. We will be selecting 15 teams for this tournament but this division gives everyone a chance to “Win and you’re in.”

We heard from many colleges that they might not have a chance at getting an automatic selection and so this is their chance to shine and put their school on live national television.


RM: Can colleges still enter teams into the CRC Qualifier?
JH: Yes, just go to www.lvirugby.com and register. To register for this division, click on “Men’s CRC 7s. To register for any other division, just pick the one you want to play in. We are running out of field space quite quickly and there is a chance that we may have to cap the CRC 7s division to 32 teams. That is still a chance for 32 teams to play on NBC.

RM: The LVI has been heavily a college event. Is that still the case?
JH: Not at all, although with both 15s and 7s divisions, the colleges provide the most clubs, we have healthy participation with Masters, High School, Age Grade and Club sides.

RM: When are the matches scheduled?
JH: CRC 7s, Women’s Open 7s, Men’s Open 7s, and Men’s Elite 7s will be played on Thursday and Friday, February 10th and 11th. Men’s CCS 7s, Women’s International 7s, Age Grade Elite 7s and High School/U-19 7s will be played Friday and Saturday, February 11 and 12. All 15s Challenge Matches can be played Thursday, Friday or Saturday depending on field availability.

RM: What presence do women's teams have at the event this year?
JH: The Women’s International 7’s field is the strongest ever with myself and Alex Williams having to say “Sorry, we are full” to some National teams. This is very exciting for the development of the Women’s game as they prepare for the Olympics. The Women’s Open 7s was the first division to fill up as well with a few teams already on the waiting list. Where the dropoff with the Women occurs is the 15s game. We only have a handful of clubs playing 15s and that has been consistent over the years for the LVI.


RM: Are the 15s played in a tournament format?
JH: No, the 15s are full matches, we call the Challenge Matches. And Challenge Matches are stand-alone games between two opponents.

RM: Why have you chose than format over, say, a series of shortened games in a bracket leading to a champion?
JH: The reasons we have Challenge Matches over a 15s tournament are many. First off, I don’t believe that you can truly play a 15s match with short halves. In 15s, there is too much strategy and rhythm for a short half to accurately give a team a chance to play their game.

With the timing of our USA Sevens being in February, the West Coast teams are in the beginning of their 15s season and the rest of the country is a few weeks away from starting up their 15s season. This gives teams a chance to play quality matches against an opponent they would normally not play. Clubs can also use these matches to further evaluate players or recruits as these matches do not count toward any playoffs. Another advantage is that due to travel restrictions or number of players available, some clubs choose to play only one 15s match whereas others play three or four matches. This adds a bit of headache to scheduling but it is a better fit for clubs.


RM: What are some of the big Challenge Match matchups?
JH: There are some great collegiate match ups as there are every year with Penn St/Utah, Air Force/California and Cal Poly/Delaware immediately coming to mind. With the Men’s clubs Old Blue NY/Kansas City Blues and Milwaukee RFC/ Alaska Oosiks should both be crackerjack games.


RM: How can a team be sure of a quality match; one that isn't too easy and or leads to a blowout?
JH: I talk with every team that registers to get a feel for their level of play. I try to schedule teams of similar quality because a lopsided game is not want I want and I know not what the teams want. There have been a few in the past but we usually get it right. The way to avoid playing a team you are not sure of is to do what many teams are doing now and calling each other in August or September and issuing something like a formal challenge at that time. Then the teams call me up and state “we want to play these guys on this day.”

That works out great.

RM: Can you name some of the high-profile teams in the 7s tournaments?
JH: Which division of 7’s, they all have big names. With the Elite 7’s we have the national teams from Russia, Chile, Bermuda, Mexico and Jamaica along with top select sides from France and Canada. In the CRC, too many to mention but Kutztown, Cal Poly, UCLA, Yale, Central Washington and last years’ semifinalist San Diego St. have to be mentioned. With the Age Grade 7’s we have 3 select sides from Canada, 2 High School All-American teams and 3 select sides from the USA filling out that bracket. The Men’s and Women’s Open 7’s will both have their share of international teams and capped players playing on Thursday and Friday. The CCS is the best of the best from the US club scene and produced a fantastic final in the stadium last year, Belmont Shore will look to repeat but Chicago Lions have to be one of the favorites.


RM: If a 7s division is full can teams get on a waiting list?
JH: Absolutely, I encourage this. This is the time of year that some teams, for a variety of reasons, suddenly have to pull out and not make the LVI. If you are on the waiting list, you would be in. We currently have that situation in the Women’s Open 7s as we have two teams on the waiting list.


RM: Is the LVI being held on the same fields as last year?
JH: For 2011, the LVI will be on the same grounds as last year, right next to the USA Sevens. Played on 17 regulation fields at the Sam Boyd Stadium Complex. Competition will run from Thursday through Saturday morning. I have looked into improving this aspect of the LVI and I believe I have found a solution for 2012.

If things go as planned we will have 27 high-quality fields for the LVI to be played on. 
 

RM: Is there still space for teams? Where?
JH: Yes, but you have to see which division you want to play in and if there is room. If you go the LVI registration page you can see where we are full and where we can still accept teams. The 7’s are filling up fast and some have waiting list already. If you are interested, please sign up for the division and get on the waiting list because every year there are a team or two that suddenly can’t make it and we need to keep the divisions full.

For 15’s there are a few spots left for matches on Friday but not many. We do have plenty of room for Thursday matches and a few on Saturday as well.


RM: What ammenities are you providing for teams in terms of medical support and other things?
JH: There will be a medical staff at the tournament but they are there primarily for safety reasons. They can evaluate and advise players on injuries. We will not have the ability to tape players nor is this the purpose of our medical staff. Teams should provide their own trainers for those types of situations.

And while we hope it won't be necessary, we will have an ambulance on-site.

We will also have tents available for teams to rent for the LVI and the Fan Festival will be open for water, food and rugby related accessories to purchase.

RM: Is it easy to get to the fields from the City?
JH: It is a straight shot from the Strip to the pitches down Tropicana but it will take about 20 minutes with traffic. I would recommend teams rent vans or cars for the Thursday and Friday. A cab ride would be quite expensive (maybe $50, I am not sure) relatively speaking. Enterprise has been a great source of cars for USA 7’s and continues to lend their support.

RM: Where should teams stay?
JH: USA Sevens has partnered with many hotels in Las Vegas to fit everyone’s budget and we would appreciate everyone’s support by staying at our sponsor hotels, as without the sponsors, the event is hard to put on. To view a list of these hotels and the packages they offer, please go to http://www.usasevens.com/las-vegas-invitational/hotels.aspx and select the option most appropriate for your travel party. 

The Tropicana is the sponsor hotel for the LVI and will be hosting the official LVI party and weekend kickoff party on Friday night.


RM: Isn't there a deadline for entry fees coming up?
JH: Yes, at the end of the year the price for the LVI doubles. It will be $200 per team.


RM: What's the most common feedback you've received from teams?
JH: The most common feedback I receive from the teams is what a wonderful experience the entire week is. To be able to play rugby for a few days then watch the best in the world all while in the entertainment capital of the world is a recipe for 5-6 days of fun.