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IRFU opts against hosting Olympic 7s qualifying competition in Ireland

The union had concerns over the costs of bringing the crucial repechage onto home soil.

THE IRFU HAS opted against hosting a rugby sevens competition in Ireland in June.

Ireland had been considered one of the leading contenders to host the final qualifying repechage competition for the 2020 Olympics, which the national mens sevens team will be part of.

Ireland have not yet secured their place at the Tokyo Games and home advantage would have been extremely useful as they get their last chance do so in June.

hsbc-london-sevens-day-two-twickenham-stadium Jordan Conroy is the top try-scored on the World Sevens Series this season. Source: Adam Davy

However, the IRFU has decided not to pursue any bid to secure the hosting of the repechage due to concerns about the costs of running the competition, which is slated to take place on 20 and 21 June, the same weekend as the Guinness Pro14 final – another concern for the IRFU.

Had the union been interested in hosting the repechage, it’s understood that Ireland would have been the strongest contender available to World Rugby. 

A spokesperson for the IRFU told The42 that its lack of interest in hosting the tournament had nothing to do with concerns around the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus and that a decision had been made around two weeks ago, before the Six Nations clash with Italy in Dublin was postponed.

The loss of between €5 million and €10 million due to that senior men’s team clash with Italy being postponed means the IRFU is even more content at deciding against bidding to host the 7s repechage.

The IRFU has had to put several development plans on hold in the wake of the postponement, while its intentions of working on ‘rugby hubs’ in new areas of the country have also been paused with the Italy game still not rescheduled.

World Rugby is now searching for a host for the Olympic 7s qualifier and the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus means that process will understandably be more difficult.

harry-mcnulty-is-tackled-by-pierre-mignot Harry McNulty has been a key man for Ireland since the relaunch of the men's 7s programme in 2015. Source: John Cowpland/INPHO

Ireland have been a core team on the men’s World Rugby Sevens Series for the first time this season and are currently ninth in the overall standings after five of the 10 legs.

Anthony Eddy’s side finished sixth at last weekend’s Los Angeles 7s and will hope to match or better that in Vancouver this weekend.

While the Irish men’s team are understandably learning as they go in the Series and delivering some impressive performances along the way, Olympic qualification would be a major boost for the profile of the seven-player code.

The Ireland women’s team won’t be travelling to the Olympics this summer, having failed to qualify, but the IRFU is hopeful of having the men’s team in Tokyo.

The exposure would be important for the union’s men’s 7s programme, which only got up and running again in 2015 after years of inactivity.

Reaching the Series for this season was a key stepping stone along the way but qualifying for the Olympics has been a major objective in the programme since its relaunch.

irelands-mark-roche Ireland's Mark Roche in action during the Series leg in Hamilton. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

IRFU performance director David Nucifora is a strong advocate for the sevens game as a development tool for 15s players, as well as a sport in its own right.

The likes of Leinster current players Will Connors, Jimmy O’Brien and Hugo Keenan have spent time in Ireland’s 7s programme, while senior Ireland 15s caps Rory O’Loughlin and Adam Byrne, as well as Munster’s Alex Wootton and Dan Goggin, Leinster’s Barry Daly, Connacht man Tom Daly, and Ulster’s Nick Timoney have also passed through 7s squads.

The programme has faced criticism over the relatively poor salaries paid to players on ‘full-time’ IRFU contracts, with those deals still worth just €18,000 per season.

The hope for the players involved in the 7s programme who are not also contracted to one of the provinces is that further progress, including Olympic qualification, will result in greater remuneration.

Ireland’s strongest competition in the repechage in June is likely to come from France – who are currently fourth in the overall Series standings – while fellow core team Samoa are also a threat.

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Murray Kinsella

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