Wednesday 26 April 2017

Jones urges Ireland to embrace Sevens surge

Felix Jones believes that playing Sevens is a great way for players to develop their skills
Felix Jones believes that playing Sevens is a great way for players to develop their skills
David Kelly

David Kelly

There has been a lot of smugly carefree back-slapping in recent times after the IRFU belatedly hitched themselves to the Rugby Sevens wagon.

Even if the urgency of preparing an ambitious Rugby World Cup bid in 2023 forced them into applying some 20/20 vision to their approach to the small-sided sport, it was clear they dropped the ball a long time ago.

The appearance of Felix Jones in the build-up to Munster's Guinness Pro12 semi-final against Ospreys offered a reminder of just how long ago that was.

It is more than six years ago now since the Munster full-back, then out of favour with his native Leinster, sought the succour of Sevens rugby and provided the nascent Irish international side with one of their best ever professional results. In the searing heat of a Dubai mid-afternoon against a crack Australia side, Jones was one of the try-scorers in a sensational 21-17 win against the Wallabies.

Sadly, Ireland would not - or, rather, were not allowed to - build upon that stunning success when a team backboned by a variety of disparate talents demonstrated their potential aptitude for their game.

In the week when the United States stunned a capacity Twickenham by claiming a leg of the hugely popular World Series in what is now an Olympic sport, the folly of the IRFU's long-standing neglect has been exposed.

However, the extraordinary progress of the Stateside minnows has also offered encouragement to teams like Ireland in offering a signpost to success regardless of how late they come to the party.

And, while the ambitions of the Irish coaches and players to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games may seem a tad far-fetched at this remove, it is precisely the unpredictability of the shorter version of the sport which could offer them hope.

Jones can see only positives in his employers' belated encouragement for one of the fastest growing and most exciting sports in the world.

"My experience of it anyway was at a time where I wasn't playing," he explains. "I think I was just in the process of moving from Leinster to Munster so it was great.

"I massively enjoyed it, we had Australia in our pool and we also had Samoa. We were probably, if we were comparing ourselves to the other teams, we were a massively under-experienced group. A lot of those teams were coming off the circuit and had been playing all year round.

"We were going over there a little bit into the dark but having said that I thought we did well considering even our preparation for it at the time was not the best.

"A lot of the guys who had actually qualified for the World Cup didn't end up going to the actual World Cup due to selections for other squads.

"We had to gel very quickly in the lead up to it and we got to play Australia on day two or day three of the tournament in the middle of the day, in the baking heat, but we managed to beat them so that was a great experience."

Irish rugby has identified talents in a variety of sporting disciplines and Jones identifies that the correct blend of physique and power is vital to becoming a successful outfit.

"The thing with Sevens is that it's so short that anything can happen. If you keep the ball away from the other side and you have a couple of good athletes in your side anything can happen.

Appreciation

"It is so short and on top of all of that it is a great way of developing guys' skills in terms of one-on-one, defence, attack, passing. It is great to watch.

"You can gather a real appreciation of space. And you can have guys who are serious athletes as well as ball players and that's the beauty of it."

In the six years since Jones joined Munster, their only title success has been the Pro12 trophy which was also secured after a Thomond Park semi-final win against tomorrow's Welsh opponents, Ospreys.

It has been too long for such a proud province who dominated Europe for much of the first decade of the millennium.

"Yeah," agrees the Irish international with little reluctance. "We totally judge ourselves on silverware so yeah we're hungry for it.

"It's something that doesn't come easy. It isn't easy to win trophies and especially now going back to the league this year and how tight it is.

"I wouldn't say it's any easier but there's definitely an awareness that they've beaten us twice this season. Everyone knows how dangerous they are."

Captain Peter O'Mahony will be afforded every chance to play as he recuperates from ongoing hip problems but Simon Zebo (back) is expected to be named in the team at lunchtime today.

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Irish Independent

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