SAN FRANCISCO — Only at sevens is the action on the pitch equalled by the entertainment in the stands.
The expression "only at sevens" is often used as a catch-all response to the colourful, unusual and visually compelling experience at a rugby sevens tournament, whether it's under the lights in Hong Kong or in a horse barn in Truro, N.S.
At the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco, every carnival-esque aspect of this sport is amplified.
Fans from around the world flocked to the Bay Area this weekend to see rugby sevens' showcase event — and everyone is dressed to impress.
The familiar red-and white Maple Leaf is a common sight around the ballpark, but so is the green and gold of South Africa's vaunted Blitzboks. Star-spangled home fans mingle with Mexican supporters in sombreros and pose with English redcoats, and everyone is smiling.
Nods to the host city were also sprinkled throughout the crowds, with fans in pinstripes paying homage to the infamous Alcatraz (no word on whether the now-defunct island prison got a cut of the free publicity.)
And, like at any ballpark worth its salt, there was a Sweet Caroline sing-a-long
There are noisemakers and foam fingers, painted faces and long lines for the bathrooms and beer carts. While all of those are par for the course at any sporting event, how often do you find a dozen Canadians in matching kilts?
When asked about dealing with temperatures over 25 C on a cloudless day, one of the Canucks replied "it breaths from the bottom."
Only at sevens, right?
'Special' environment at World Cup
Despite the high stakes, the atmosphere at the tournament remains amicable and welcoming, something that Montreal's Marge Thompson says is unique to rugby sevens.
"The access you have to the athletes is really cool," Thompson said after posing with fellow Canadian Lee Bieber and Rookie, the U.S. rugby mascot.
"It's really special," Lee added, describing Thursday night's welcoming ceremony in a downtown plaza where the players mingled with throngs of fans before being called up on stage.
The crowds were initially sparse since Friday's matches began at 10 a.m. local time, but they were no less engaged. Fans began to fill the bleachers as the day progressed, with huge roars echoing through the picturesque ballpark following the Irish women's upset of England and seemingly after every American try.
Not to be outdone, Ireland's men's team elicited a rousing ovation following their last-second try to defeat Chile.
There are bound to be more heroes and goats on the pitch as the tournament progresses to the later rounds. But as it stands, the fans and whoever stocks their wardrobes have already made this World Cup memorable.
Then again, that's just a sevens thing.