Ireland men's 7s go after World Series qualification in Hong Kong

Billy Dardis and his team get their bid underway in Hong Kong early tomorrow morning.

WHILE MANY OF us are still sleeping tomorrow morning, the Ireland men’s sevens team will be kicking off what they hope is the tournament that secures them a place on the glamorous World Rugby Sevens Series for the 2018/19 season.

The men’s sevens team have been on a remarkable journey since the IRFU relaunched the programme in 2015 and this weekend’s Qualifier competition in Hong Kong could provide a rich reward for all the hard work.

original Billy Dardis is the Ireland captain. Silicon Valley 7s Silicon Valley 7s

Anthony Eddy’s side, captained by former Leinster back Billy Dardis, get their bid underway against the Cook Islands at 5.20am [Irish time] tomorrow morning, before a second Pool G meeting with Jamaica at 8.18am.

The games will be streamed live on the World Rugby Sevens Facebook page and website, as will Ireland’s final pool clash with Uruguay on Saturday morning at 2.22am and the other fixtures from the Hong Kong competition.

All going well for Ireland, they will move on to a quarter-final on Saturday, before a semi-final and the final on Sunday.

If Ireland win the Qualifier competition outright, and only in that event, they will join the Sevens Series next season, competing against the best teams in the world such as New Zealand, Fiji, South Africa and Australia.

While there are rarely certainties in sevens rugby, it looks like Chile, Japan, Hong Kong and Germany will be Ireland’s fellow trophy contenders in this weekend’s tournament, where Ireland will need to be composed and clinical.

The heat, which has reached 28°C this week, has been a challenge for Ireland as they have acclimatised in Hong Kong, but after some initial struggles on their Astro training pitch, they have adapted and are looking forward to the grass surfaces in-competition.

Eddy has a promising blend of sevens experience and youthful potential in his squad for this weekend.

Ex-Leinster man Dardis, who joined the programme after his time with the province ended, captains the group once again, with his drop-kicking, lineout throwing and calm influence at scrum-half sure to be vital for Ireland.

Fascinatingly, Harry McNulty and Mark Roche – the other scrum-half – are still important members of the squad, having played for Ireland back in 2015 when the team first competed in Bosnia after the IRFU got the programme back up and running.

Also involved again are Lansdowne’s John O’Donnell and Leinster’s Jimmy O’Brien and Hugo Keenan, all three of whom have been part of the squad in recent seasons.

Their experience, as ever, will be crucial for Eddy’s side.

Leinster academy pair O’Brien and Keenan are the playmakers for Ireland, which is perhaps a little surprising in Keenan’s case, given that he is a wing in the 15s game.

They have both impressed consistently as creative forces for Ireland, while fellow Leinster academy man Terry Kennedy and the lightning-quick Robert Baloucoune of Enniskillen and Ballymena are expected to be the main pace men out wide.

McNulty, Will Connors, Shane Daly, O’Donnell and Ian Fitzpatrick of Lansdowne will generally act as Ireland’s forwards in Hong Kong, although it is obviously very flexible in the game of sevens, with Bryan Mollen also covering several roles.

Jimmy O'Brien Leinster's Jimmy O'Brien is one of the playmakers for Ireland. Gary Carr / INPHO Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

Ulsterman Baloucoune hasn’t featured extensively yet this season, but he is now one of five Irishmen set to win their first official Sevens caps this weekend.

Leinster back row Connors, Munster centre Daly, Trinity’s Mollen and Lansdowne man Foster Horan – who will act as the 13th man for Ireland – have all featured for Ireland in other tournaments, but this is their first capped competition.

The pressure on Ireland this weekend will certainly be a major step up on what they have faced so far this season – including the Oktoberfest 7s, Silicon Valley 7s, Dubai 7s Invitational and Sudamérica 7s Series – but there is belief that they are mentally capable.

Ireland have taken every hurdle in their long journey to this point successfully, while younger players Daly, Keenan, O’Brien, Kennedy and Connors all helped Ireland into a 15s World Cup final at U20 level in 2016, having beaten New Zealand along the way.

Now, those youngsters and the rest of this Irish squad in Hong Kong have the chance to launch the sevens game onto a completely new level in Ireland.

Ireland squad:

Robert Baloucoune (Enniskillen/Ballymena/Ulster) *
Will Connors (UCD/Leinster) *
Shane Daly (Cork Constitution/Munster) *
Billy Dardis (UCD) (captain)
Ian Fitzpatrick (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Foster Horan (Lansdowne) *
Hugo Keenan (UCD/Leinster)
Terry Kennedy (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
Harry McNulty (UCD)
Bryan Mollen (Dublin University) *
Jimmy O’Brien (UCD/Leinster)
John O’Donnell (Lansdowne)
Mark Roche (Blackrock College)

* Signifies uncapped player

Qualifier competition fixtures:

Friday, April 6

Ireland v Cook Islands (Pool G), Hong Kong Stadium, 5.20am Irish time

Ireland v Jamaica (Pool G), Hong Kong Stadium, 8.18am Irish time

Saturday, April 7

Ireland v Uruguay (Pool G), Hong Kong Stadium, 2.22am Irish time
Quarter-finals, TBC

Sunday, April 8

Semi-finals and final, TBC


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