Stacked field for Abbotsford Rugby Sevens festival

Bigger and better is the theme for the third annual Abbotsford Rugby Sevens festival.

The Kenyan national sevens team won the Abbotsford Rugby Sevens title in 2009. They’re back in 2011 as part of an expanded International Division.

The Kenyan national sevens team won the Abbotsford Rugby Sevens title in 2009. They’re back in 2011 as part of an expanded International Division.

Bigger and better is the theme for the third annual Abbotsford Rugby Sevens festival.

In previous years, the event’s elite International Division had featured two teams from outside Canada and the United States. Sides from Kenya and the West Indies were in attendance in 2009, and last year’s event drew teams from Fiji and South Africa.

The 2011 edition of the tournament, which runs Saturday, July 23 at Exhibition Park, takes the international flavour to the next level. Of the 14 teams in the International Division, seven hail from outside Canada and the U.S.

“It’s the biggest and most internationally diverse field that we’ve ever had,” tournament head Doug Okero enthused. “Fans can expect to see the highest international calibre of rugby.”

National rugby sevens teams from Kenya, Mexico, Canada and the Cayman Islands will face off against club sides like the British Army, the Fijian Ambassadors, Ratu Filise (Fiji), and the Tiger Sharks (United Kingdom). The action gets started at 9 a.m.

Fijian superstar Waisale Serevi – widely considered the greatest rugby sevens player of all time – will be in attendance for the second straight year. He’s coaching Old Puget Sound, an American club.

Okero said that Serevi’s presence, along with the rapid expansion of the international field, is evidence of the Abbotsford event’s burgeoning reputation.

“It’s been a lot of hard work, but we’ve always done our best to look after the teams that come to Abbotsford and integrate them as part of the overall community,” he said. “The word has gotten around that we look after teams very well, and now teams are contacting us, wanting to be part of the event.”

Beyond the rugby, the festival features live music, ethnic food vendors, a beer garden, multicultural exhibitions, and a family entertainment village.

The tourney drew 3,200 fans last year, and based on advance ticket sales, Okero said that number could grow to 5,000 this time around.

“Every country has its own fan base and following,” he noted.

For more information and to order tickets, visit abbotsfordsevens.com.