Sunday 25 August 2019

Olympics the next aim as Ireland belatedly in Sevens heaven


Billy Dardis
Billy Dardis

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

After years of carrying on as if the Sevens circuit doesn't exist, Ireland will take her place amongst the nations of the world as a core team on the World Rugby Sevens circuit in 2020, after achieving their goal in Hong Kong yesterday.

They deserve to be there after a dominant performance that saw them beat Russia and Germany in the knock-outs before downing the hosts 28-7 in the final thanks to tries from Terry Kennedy, Greg O'Shea, Harry McNulty and 10-try player of the tournament Jordan Conroy.

Once they enjoy their achievement and come to terms with becoming one of the 15 major players in the truncated game, whizzing from one glamorous destination to the next, their focus will turn to qualifying for the biggest show in Sevens in 2020 - the Olympics in Tokyo.

The route to Japan is a difficult one, with the European regional qualification tournament taking place in Colomiers, France in July with one automatic spot on offer. If they miss out on that, they'll have to do enough to secure a place in the world qualification repechage later in the year.

Coach Anthony Eddy says the team hope to secure invitations to the series events at London and Paris, as they did last year, as part of their preparation for the qualification tournament.

And captain Billy Dardis is already looking towards Japan having made up for the disappointment of missing out on the series in heartbreaking fashion last year.

"We're just speechless, it's class," the former Leinster starlet said. "In previous years we may have underestimated this three-day tournament and how competitive it is. Every team was going to be desperate so it will be extra hard.

"If we can qualify for the Olympics in the summer, then that will be two boxes ticked."

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Eddy was delighted with the Sevens side's success.

Establishing Ireland as a major player in the Sevens game has been a key focus of IRFU performance director David Nucifora since he arrived in Ireland and his fellow Australian has been tasked with delivering success.

"We've worked really hard over the last 12 months so they thoroughly deserve their victory and a spot on the World Series. It gives Irish Sevens a real boost. It's already shown what a pathway it can bring for players to progress to XVs, and to provincial teams," Eddy, who has come in for criticism for his handling of the women's XVs set-up, said.

"This gives other players an opportunity to be on the world stage continually, and another pathway to wear a green jersey and represent your country.

"We'll definitely target London and Paris, they are two great tournaments close to home. Also we have Olympic qualification for Rugby Europe after those, so we will use those for good preparation for Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualification."

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