Magnificent Sevens in Limerick
'Rugby's fastest man' Isles gets World Club 7s fans on feet
If this weekend was a sign of things to come for the Limerick World Club 7s tournament in the next five years, then the tournament is in safe hands.
Not even Saturday's monsoon-like weather conditions could dampen the atmosphere at Thomond Park as the crowds thrived upon the free-scoring nature of sevens rugby.
The star attraction of the weekend was undoubtedly Carlin Isles, and the man widely regarded as the fastest in world rugby lived up to the crowd's every expectation.
Isles has that rare ability to get fans on their feet any time he is in possession of the ball and watching him sprinting at full tilt is one of those things that one has to see live to appreciate.
The standout image of the feast of rugby was the look on Jack Wilson's face when he found himself one-on-one with the speedster. As Isles moved through the gears, the facial expression of the Saracens player told a thousand words.
Isles blitzed over for the try and the shrug of Wilson's shoulders was something that every mere mortal inside the stadium could relate to.
Joe Schmidt was a keen spectator and his presence was a great advertisement for a tournament that has the potential to grow and grow. Sevens rugby has played a major role in the development of Schmidt's native New Zealand international side and, all going well, the skills on show in Limerick will go some way to inspiring young Irish players to do the same.
The Ireland coach would have been impressed with what he saw from a Munster team that was largely made up of academy players and who had little time to prepare as they were pitted against teams who regularly play on the sevens circuit.
Having impressively beaten San Francisco and Moscow Saracens, Munster maintained their 100pc winning record in their final Pool C game against Daveta to claim top spot.
However, having drawn the Fijian outfit in their quarter-final clash yesterday, Colm McMahon's side fell to a 12-10 defeat and thus ended their quest for cup glory. Munster's focus instead turned to the plate, but they lost out 33-10 to Moscow Saracens in the semi-final.
Munster ended the tournament in seventh place after beating Blue Bulls (24-19) in a play-off and, despite the disappointing finish, McMahon was keen to take the positives from the weekend.
"We're very disappointed with how today went," he admitted. "We played our cup rugby yesterday (Saturday) if you like and today was the knockout stuff.
"One of the real pluses has been that the younger lads have been playing against quality opposition.
"A lot of our focus on those younger guys is to work on their decision making and now we're chucking them into something where they totally have to make decisions in situations that they wouldn't have found themselves in before, which is very good for their development."
A former sevens international himself, McMahon maintained that Munster will have benefitted greatly from the tournament while he hopes that it will inspire the game to grow in Ireland.
"The tournament has been excellent. We've seen a lot of very good games. As you'd expect in sevens, there's been a lot of individual flair. It's been very positive overall," he added.
Anthony Foley and his new-look Munster coaching team watched on with bated breath as Gerhard van den Heever (knee), Luke O'Dea (knee) and Shane Buckley (shoulder) were all prematurely forced out of the tournament.
South African winger Van den Heever had to be helped from the pitch on Saturday after landing awkwardly and required lengthy medical attention on the sideline.
Foley will also be sweating over O'Dea, who was taken from the field on a stretcher.
The winger was one of Munster's stand-out performers in the tournament and, for a player that has been plagued by injuries over the last couple of years, four weeks out from the opening game of the season, this potential latest set back couldn't have come at a worse time.
The southern hemisphere flair was in abundance, with Auckland and Western Province giving the crowd full value for their money as they ran in tries from all over the pitch – particularly yesterday as the ground firmed up after Saturday's torrential downpour.
Australian U-20 winger Andrew Kellaway, who in June equalled the record number of tries (eight) at the Junior World Cup, was outstanding throughout the tournament and is a certain future international in waiting.
The 'Combine Team' added another fascinating dynamic to the tournament. Lansdowne duo Eoin Walsh and Alex Kirwan both featured for Saracens in their shield final defeat to Waratahs, while Adam Griggs was included in Auckland's squad for their semi-final cup defeat to Daveta.
Fittingly, the sun shone for the trophy presentations as the curtain was drawn on the inaugural Limerick World Club 7s tournament.
With the attendances on both days comfortably meeting the organisers' expectations, the standards have been set for a tournament that promises to be better again next year.