Pittsburgh Steeltoes Host First Eastern Conference Here For New Rugby League
The Premier Rugby Sevens league chose Pittsburgh as the home base for a new franchise. The July 23 tournament will determine who advances to the national championship.
Pittsburgh’s first professional rugby franchise, the Steeltoes, will host Premier Rugby Sevens’ Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday, July 23, making history for Western Pennsylvania and for the growing league.
Premier Rugby Sevens is the first major rugby sevens circuit in the world, and was designed to introduce rugby to American audiences with a game that is more fast-paced and action-packed than traditional rugby. PR7s, as it’s known, hosted its inaugural championship in 2021 and expanded to a four-franchise tournament in 2022. This year, the league doubled in size, welcoming eight franchises to compete in a series of kickoff matches, conference finals and a championship.
Highmark Stadium will host PR7s’ first Eastern Conference Finals, where Pittsburgh’s Steeltoes Rugby Club will compete against three other franchises — the New York Locals from New York City, the Texas Team from Austin and the reigning PR7s champion franchise, the Southern Headliners from Memphis — for a spot in the 2023 national championship.
The finals will begin at 3 p.m. and continue until 11:30 p.m., leaving time for the eight total teams — a men’s and women’s team from each franchise — to compete in a series of 14-minute matches and for fans to enjoy the festival atmosphere that the league boasts. A “Fan Fest” will open one hour prior to the game, bringing live music, inflatables, vendors and on-field entertainment to PR7s most dedicated supporters.
Tickets range from $15 to $85 and can be purchased here. Fans can also watch the finals from home, with the first four matches being broadcasted on the CBS sports network and the last four matches being live-streamed on the league’s youtube channel.
A Highmark Stadium official said in an interview that the event organizers are expecting a good turnout of fans on Sunday because rugby not only “appeals to Pittsburgh’s rough and tumble roots” and long-standing love of football, but also will attract younger attendees who enjoy the speed and action of the game.
Owen Scannell, CEO of PR7s, said in a January press release that Pittsburgh’s dedication to professional sports makes it a perfect home for a history-making rugby franchise.
“Pittsburgh and Western PA are home to some of the most passionate and knowledgeable sports fans in the country,” he says. “We’re thrilled to bring professional rugby to Pittsburgh for the first time and introduce rugby sevens to new audiences.”
Since the Steeltoes franchise was announced in January, Pittsburgh residents have found ways to get involved with PR7s. Locals had the opportunity to try out for the franchise in March and play alongside Olympians and other professional athletes. Rugby dreams became reality for Scout Cheeks, a North Hills graduate who is now on the Headliners team, and Misha Shorrin, a member of the Pittsburgh Forge Rugby Club who now plays for the Steeltoes.
Younger players are also supporting the teams at the Eastern Conference; according to Triblive’s high school sports network, members of the Penn Hills club rugby team will get to help set up locker rooms, serve as ball runners and talk with PR7s athletes about game strategy.
Rugby is similar to American football, except for a few game-play differences: rugby has no
forward passes and no blocking, the ball remains in play after a player is tackled, and players do not wear protective padding. Rugby scoring is easy for football fans to follow: a “try” is worth 5 points and occurs when a player places the ball on the ground in the opposing team’s try zone. After the try, the team can attempt to kick a drop goal for an additional 2 points.
Rugby sevens, the game format that PR7s uses, is different from traditional rugby in two main ways. Rugby sevens features seven players per side instead of 15, and games have two 7-minute halves rather than two 40-minute halves.
The winners of Sunday’s Eastern Conference will advance to the championship tournament, which will be held on Aug. 6 in Washington D.C., and face the franchises of the Western Conference, currently being led by the Rocky Mountain Experts from Salt Lake City. The winning men’s team will take home the A. Jon Prusmack Cup, and the winning women’s team will receive the Kathy Flores Cup. According to a press release, PR7s is the first sports organization of its kind to include men’s and women’s teams in the same game format with equal pay.
After a busy summer of competitions, one franchise will take home the PR7s United Championship, which combines the men’s and women’s results for each match.