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USA Sevens is the Super Bowl of American rugby. There’s no other weekend like it, not in Aspen, Saranac, Ft. Lauderdale, Wayne, Neb. or Savanna. Americans, foreign visitors and ex-pats alike invade Sin City and put rugby on the first line of its marquees.

Whether you’re going to see the IRB 7s World Series, reconnect with old friends or take in the country‘s largest tournament, the LVI, Las Vegas is the best and/or only place you can do it. It’s truly a week to get excited about, and I’m going to tell you what, in 2012, has me eagerly awaiting my flight.

2011 opening ceremonies. Dobson Images

Fijian fans fill the stands. Numina photo

Unufe with the Warriors. Dobson Images

5. The opening ceremonies and Parade of Nations at the Fremont Street Experience. Might sound corny, but it’s worth your time. Rarely, if ever, does rugby get this kind of fanfare in America: The flags being zip lined down Fremont Street, the teams being brought on stage and the showgirls. The best part, though, is the overhead view of the Fremont Street video board which floods downtown Vegas with rugby.

4. The Men’s Elite, Women’s Elite and CRC Qualifier finals will be played inside Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday. When Belmont Shore beat the Chicago Lions under the lights in 2010, it was a really special atmosphere. Now we get that three-fold.

3. The Friday night international matches. There’s something really fun about watching live rugby at night. In my part of the country, the middle, it doesn’t happen a lot.

When Bennie Brazell streaked down the touch line for a try in the 2010 event, under the lights, Sam Boyd Stadium exploded, giving me goose bumps.

The sun won’t be down for the Eagles’ pool-opening match against Canada, but when the USA takes on Fiji, who is in a three-way tie with Kenya and Samoa for the second-most cheered on team, it will be. It should create a really fun, well-lubricated atmosphere.

2. The CRC Qualifier is bigger and better than last year.

If you read me or listen to our Ruggamatrix pod casts with any regularity, you know college rugby has a grip on me. Add that to 32 teams fighting with everything they have to earn one spot to play on national television, and you’ve got the most intriguing competition of the week, outside of the IRB World Series.

The 8am Friday match between Davenport and Utah, especially, has me captivated.

1. Maka Unufe. I’ve raved about him ever since seeing him in the Club 7s National Championships with Utah, and I’m still smitten. The guy is extremely talented, and this weekend will be most of America’s first glimpse of him.

Unufe will be well supported by friends and family in Las Vegas, as he grew up in nearby Salt Lake City. I think he has the chance to be the country’s best rugby player, with some seasoning, and I think he has an even better chance to be the darling of the 2012 USA Sevens. 

Hopefully, I’ll get the pleasure of seeing American fans fall in love with the 20-year-old homegrown star scoring all the tries as USA sprints to the Cup rounds.