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Dan Sheridan/INPHO Billy Dardis, ahead of the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Cape Town this weekend.
# Sevens Rugby
'When we’re on it, we can beat the best in the world' - Ireland aiming high at World Cup
Captain Billy Dardis is feeling confident ahead of this weekend’s tournament in Cape Town.

IT’S BEEN AN impressive year on the road for the Ireland men’s 7s squad, and James Topping’s side are hoping to keep that good momentum going when they kick-off their World Cup campaign in South Africa on Friday. 

Back in May, Ireland secured their first medal as a World Series core team, taking silver in Toulouse on a weekend which also saw them beat South Africa for the first time ever on the World Series.

They hit another milestone at the Los Angeles 7s in late August, losing both their quarter-final clash against New Zealand and their fifth place play-off-final against Argentina, but doing enough to finish fifth in the final World Series overall standings – their best finish since joining the circuit as a core team in 2019.

Now the attention turns to this weekend’s World Cup in South Africa, and Friday’s opening fixture against Portugal in Cape Town – the latest stop on a whirlwind couple of years which also saw the Ireland men’s 7s compete at the Olympics for the first time.

Captain Billy Dardis has been there every step of the way, having debuted back in 2016.

“I’m incredibly proud,” says Dardis, speaking from South Africa just a few days out from his second World Cup.

It’s incredible to see what Irish 7s has done over the last five or six years. To go from the basement of Europe to a World Cup, to qualify for the World Series and Olympics, and to become one of the top eight in the world… It has been pretty cool.”

Dardis was also part of the Ireland squad which finished ninth at the 2018 World Cup in San Francisco. Given the progress they’ve made since, this time around, expectations are a little higher.

“In the last World Series we came 10th, came 10th in the Olympics and then this year has been quite impressive,” Dardis says.

“We made our first World Series final, beat the likes of Fiji and South Africa, nearly beat New Zealand. Fifth was a fair reflection of where we are as a programme, as a team and how we performed this year. We were pretty happy with it and I think now it’s an opportunity to back that up and hopefully go further.”

Ireland will be strong favourites heading into Friday’s clash with Portugal, which kicks-off the men’s weekend schedule. And with the tournament once again working on a knock-out basis, Dardis says the group have placed a big focus on making a fast start.

billy-dardis Martin Seras Lima / INPHO Ireland 7s captain Billy Dardis. Martin Seras Lima / INPHO / INPHO

“We’ll be going in as heavy favourites, having performed quite well throughout the year. For them coming in as underdogs, any type of win, if they score a try, if they make a line break, even if they make a tackle, it will be celebrated in their eyes. If you let that happen over and over, that can really get on top of you.

“It will be a big one for us and hopefully we can just be a little bit poker-faced about it, go about our work, nail down our detail, be really clinical and do the job. Because I know, like every team, when we’re on it, we can beat the best in the world. We’ve struggled at times to beat the perceived weaker teams. We’ve struggled to really put them away, whereas teams like New Zealand and Fiji can really put 50 or 60 (points) on lesser teams.

“With this format, each game is like a final,” he continues.

“We’d be lying if we said we haven’t thought of ‘Ok, if we beat Portugal, then we have England in a second round match in a World Cup’. We’ve beaten England a good few times this year, but England are England. They can always show up and put on a show.

Then if you win that game, you can play South Africa on Saturday night in the World Cup quarter-final. I think they’ve sold 165,000 tickets for this weekend so a Saturday night game against South Africa would be rocking. That’s the goal, to put ourselves in that position.

“We’ve played South Africa this year, we’ve beaten them, they’ve beaten us. Everyone knows when South Africa are at home, there’s lots of pressure. Everyone is expecting them to win.

“I think that would be one of the biggest games of our lives, if we were lucky enough to get there. You can’t lie and say you haven’t thought about it, but it would be nice to get to there and hopefully push on for a semi and a final.”

Given some of their displays this year, Ireland certainly have the tools to go far in the tournament. And in Terry Kennedy, they have one of the in-form players in the game. Kennedy finished the 2021/22 season as the top try-scorer on the World Series after scoring scoring 50 tries in 52 games, an achievement which also saw him named as the sole Irish player on the HSBC Dream Team for the season.

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“He’s been unplayable this year,” Dardis says.

He is just ridiculous. He’s coming out with incredible plays, he has pulled wins out when we really needed it. When a player is on form the game just slows down and they can take it by the scruff of the neck. They can score when they need to. I don’t know what it is but any time he gets the ball, players stand off. He looks like he has a lot of time on the ball. His pace is just electric, he can just burn guys, and makes really good decisions.

“On top of that, everyone sees the tries he scores and line breaks he can cut through, but his attitude this year and competitiveness has been something that has really stood out. His competitiveness and will to win has been the biggest thing for us.

“He has been barking at lads all year and has become a leader in the squad. We’re lucky to have a good few leaders in the squad in the likes of Harry [McNulty], Jack Kelly, Rochey [Mark Roche], [Bryan] Mollen, Terry, Hugo Lennox, but he has become someone who has really led from the front.

“Hopefully he can continue that vein of form into this weekend. If he can put on a show in front of 65,000 people and help us get to where we want to be, we’ll be delighted.”

TritonLake, proud title sponsor of the Ireland Men’s and Women’s 7s teams, has released Episode Six of its podcast TritonLake Perform, featuring Lynne Cantwell, Women’s High-Performance Manager for South African Rugby, ahead of the biggest tournament of the 7s season, the Rugby World Cup 7s in Cape Town.

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