For Tapper and Tago, PR7s offers big opportunities

Premier Rugby Sevens splashed onto the scene in October, showcasing for the first time the Olympic version of rugby wrapped in the American professional sports package and presented to a national television audience. Nearly half a million people took in the Inaugural Championship, which planted PR7s’ flag as the first pro sevens league in the world and the first North American professional rugby competition of any kind for women.

Logan Tago of the Experts in the 2021 Premier Rugby Sevens Inaugural Championship at AutoZone Park on October 9, 2021 in Memphis, Tennessee. ©️ 2021 Alex Ho

Major news on PR7s’ sophomore campaign, which will constitute its first full season, is just over the horizon and already general manager Mike Tolkin has resigned two of the league’s biggest stars.

Coming into the Inaugural Championship in Memphis, the Headliners looked like the early favorite on paper thanks to a trio of Olympians led by barnstorming wing Naya Tapper. Sweeping pool play with a perfect 3-0 record, the Headliners confirmed the hype. Heading into the final, they’d already beaten their opponent, the Loonies, 22-10 thanks in part to two tries from Tapper.

But her Eagle teammate-turned-rival, Alev Kelter, and the Loonies would best Tapper’s Headliners in the final. In the months since, Kelter has switched to 15s, starring in the English Premiership for top-of-the-table Saracens, and Tapper has surpassed her as Team USA’s all-time leading try scorer, becoming the first-ever American to notch 100 tries on the HSBC Sevens World Series.

The women’s national team has just two more World Series stops, Canada in April and France in May, before Tapper turns her full attention to PR7s’ first true season.

“I’m really excited that it’s not a one-off thing,” said Tapper. “That it wasn’t something that happened last year and never is going to happen again because that just shows consistency which we don’t see so much in the industry for rugby in the US. That’s very reassuring.

“I’m obviously looking forward to playing and there being multiple locations and multiple tournaments, building on what they put together last year. As a player, I’m just excited for the opportunity to see if I’ll be on the same team or not, if they’ll come up with different teams. Like, I’m just excited to see what else they have to build on for the tournaments coming up.”

On the men’s side, the story of the tournament was that of Logan Tago, the former Washington State defensive end whose plans to play in the Canadian Football League were derailed by COVID, leading him to rugby. In the Inaugural Championship, his first-ever sevens tournament, Tago exploded for seven tries, including two in the Experts’ overtime victory in the final to earn MVP honors.

“My first tournament in Memphis, it was fun. The setup was fun, and having all the other guys there was fun,” said Tago. “It’s been crazy, honestly. My rugby career after that PR7s skyrocketed.”

Since then, he’s jumped from unknown to the national team, signing a full-time contract with Team USA, making his World Series debut in Dubai a month after his PR7s debut, and trotting around the globe to South Africa and Spain. In addition to tournaments in Canada and France, the men have tournaments in Singapore, London and Los Angeles, before Tago returns to PR7s to try and retain his crown.

“I never thought I would be playing with the USA 7s ever. That was not in the plan at all until after PR7s,” said Tago. “But I was blessed enough for this opportunity to represent the USA and travel around the world.

“The more I learn about the game, the more passion I have. It’s fun to be around the game all the time now.”

Coming into that first tournament in Memphis, Tapper and Tago were in completely different head spaces. Tago was anonymously trying something new without expectation, while Tapper was a marquee attraction and seasoned pro plying her trade.

For her, and the cadre of Olympians and national teamers, Memphis was a rare opportunity to engage with their home fans, as it will be for Tago this season.

The “World” part of the World Series means tournaments are played in every imaginable time zone, making it difficult for fans, even the sleep challenged, to follow the national teams live. Only once a year would the Eagle men play on home soil in San Diego, Las Vegas or Los Angeles, and the women even more sparingly.

So when Tapper took the pitch at AutoZone Park, one of the major perks was getting to play in front of family for the first time.

“In Memphis being able to have my aunt and uncle come see me play, that was just amazing and a great feeling for me,” Tapper shared. “The more locations we have in the U.S., the more opportunities for your friends and families to come, but also the people who support you — who you don’t know — that watch your streams when you’re playing internationally.

“(Fans) being able to come to a U.S. location and interact with you from the sideline, people dream of that stuff on both sides, so I think that’s really amazing and an outlier for PR7s.”

When Tapper and Tago take the field for PR7s’ sophomore campaign this summer, they’ll be more aligned. Both fresh off the World Series, looking to sharpen their skills, build their brands and make new fans ahead of August’s Sevens World Cup.

But there will be plenty of men and women there in the same headspace as that of a rookie Tago in 2021. Since he blazed the trail from unknown to national team, using PR7s as a springboard, the league’s forward facing stars, like Tapper, have found themselves fielding all sorts of questions from those hoping to make their pro debuts in 2022.

“Do you actually get paid? And not just because you’re you, but all levels of players, was there actually money in it for them? And what was the experience like?” she says they’ll often ask.

“I’m excited for the opportunity this season is going to create for players who don’t even think that getting paid to play is an option, so just showing them what they deserve and all the possibilities that are out there for them.”

News of PR7s first proper season is coming soon. Real soon. And you should get excited about it, because Naya Tapper and Logan Tago are playing in it and they’re pumped.

By Pat Clifton

PR7s Insider

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