Thomond heading for 7s heaven
World Club showpiece to pull in crowds despite clash with hurling
From crunch European rugby clashes to Bruce Springsteen concerts, Thomond Park has grown accustomed to hosting major events.
This weekend sees another rugby showpiece roll into town as the annual World Club 7s tournament comes to these shores for the first time.
Twelve teams from across the globe will compete in the tournament, with 34 games scheduled to take place across two days.
The announcement that there will be a live broadcast of Limerick's All-Ireland hurling semi-final encounter with Kilkenny on a big screen has come as a timely boost for the organisers after there were fears that the attendances would be heavily dented due to fans making the journey to Croke Park.
As it is, upwards of 10,000 people are expected in Thomond Park this weekend, which, it is understood, would meet the expectations of the organisers.
It is hoped that following a successful tournament, Limerick and Thomond Park will become the host venue of the global event for the next five years.
Commenting on hosting the tournament, one of the main organisers of the event, Tim Magee, said that he is confident that it will be a huge success.
"We are very grateful to the GAA for allowing us to show the hurling game," said Magee.
"Our tournament is packed with some of the biggest club names in rugby so there will be non-stop action on the pitch over the two days, but we're delighted to be able to bring all the action from Croke Park to the fans too.
"Thomond Park makes a brilliant setting for anyone into sport. It's the best of Sevens rugby and the best of hurling in a wonderful family-friendly setting," Magee quipped.
There are several star attractions on offer at the tournament – not least the fact that Munster have entered a team to compete.
Sevens rugby will be played at the Olympics for the first time in 2016 and Ireland remain the only rugby-playing nation in the world's top 20 that doesn't have a programme designed to compete. In many ways, this weekend's tournament could go a long way to inspiring the powers that be to rectify that situation, especially given the success that the women's Sevens team have already had.
Limerick native Ronan O'Mahony will captain a Munster side that is coached by Colm McMahon – a former international Sevens player himself.
O'Mahony, along with the likes of South African flyer Gerhard van den Heever and youngsters Cian Bohane and Luke O'Dea, will be hoping to impress new head coach Anthony Foley ahead of the start of the domestic season.
As well as the 12 competing teams, a 13th 'Combine Team', which includes 11 Irish players, has also been formed.
Players from AIL clubs such as Lansdowne, Shannon, Cork Con and Old Crescent will all have a chance to play with and against some of the biggest names in Sevens rugby as they will act as a substitute squad for all of the competing teams.
There are many stellar names on the Sevens circuit but they don't come much bigger than Carlin Isles.
The man who is widely regarded as being the fastest player in world rugby, having reportedly run 100m in 10.13 seconds, will line out for New York this weekend. Isles has returned to Sevens rugby after a disappointing spell with Pro12 side Glasgow Warriors, but a quick YouTube search of his name should get fans' pulses racing for what promises to be a hugely entertaining weekend in Limerick.
Jonah Lomu – one of the greatest ever players to grace a rugby pitch – describes Sevens rugby as follows: "It's exactly how rugby should be played – fair play but at the same time at speed, skill, pace: everything that needs to be done."
The game of Sevens rugby in this country may not be at the heights that it should be, but hosting the World Club 7s tournament for the next five years provides ample opportunity to put that right.
How it works
Today's pool games are divided into three sessions – morning, afternoon and evening.
There will be on-field entertainment in between each session.
Munster open their Pool C campaign against San Francisco (12.47) before taking on Moscow Saracens (3.23). They round off their pool games with what promises to be cracking encounter against exciting Fijian outfit Daveta (6.20).
Other games that should be worth watching today include the 11.15 Pool A clash between Auckland and New York, who include Sevens sensation Carlin Isles in their squad.
Pool A has a formidable look to it, with Auckland and New York joined by regular Sevens side Vodacom Bulls and English side Saracens.
With the top two teams set to qualify for tomorrow's quarter-finals, Pool A is set to throw up plenty of exciting thrills.
NSW Waratahs will be expected to emerge from Pool C, while DHL Western Province and Stade Francais are likely to be left to battle it out for the runners-up spot.
Tomorrow is finals day, with three trophies to play for – the shield, the plate and the cup.
All eyes will be on the cup competition, with the final scheduled to take place at 5.51.
The bookies have installed Auckland as the favourites for the competition, with Munster coming in just behind them.