The Ireland Under-19s secured the Plate title at the FIRA/AER U-19 European Sevens Championship in Lisbon this evening, running out 45-17 winners over Belgium in their final outing of the weekend.
Finishing fifth of the 16 competing teams - with four wins from six games - was a very positive outcome for coaches Kieran Campbell and Colin McEntee, who only brought the squad together for the first time prior to last weekend's Carrick Sevens.
The IRFU accepted a recent invitation from FIRA/AER to compete in the Under-19 Sevens Championship in Lisbon, Portugal, and warmed up for the tournament by winning the U-19 Cup in Carrickfergus.
Ireland were ranked eighth for the two-day European Sevens and won their opening two pool games yesterday against Germany (36-14) and Denmark (54-0), before going down narrowly to defending champions France (19-17).
The Irish youngsters, led by Under-20 scrum half Jack Cullen, scored some cracking tries in the pool stages, one of the highlights being Callum Sheedy's brilliant reverse pass that released fellow Exile Matthew Killeen to score the final try against Germany.
Sprinter Greg O'Shea and Harrison Brewer were both prominent in creating and scoring tries, with big Bradley Greer - the youngest member of the squad at 17 - threatening out wide and hooker Sean McNulty also making his presence felt.
Ireland came from behind against top seeds France to lead 10-7 at half-time in the pool decider, Cullen doing really well to scamper through and pass for Brewer to touch down before the break.
France, who went on to retain their European crown, looked dangerous on the ball and snapped back to lead 14-10 while also having a try ruled out for holding off the ball.
Following the resulting yellow card, Ireland took advantage as Brewer and Ben Kilkenny set up O'Shea for his side's third try.
Crucially, two of the Irish conversions were missed and the squad's inexperience told right at the death as France countered from deep and O'Shea and Cullen were unable to prevent a last-gasp five-pointer.
Ireland moved on to today's Cup quarter-finals as Pool A runners-up, however unbeaten Russia took advantage of a second half yellow card to beat Campbell's charges 7-5.
They quickly put that disappointing result behind them to mount a challenge for the Plate, tallying up five tries in a confident 31-5 victory over Italy.
Garryowen talent Steven McMahon set them on their way, bursting through two tackles for an early converted try under the posts. Greer and O'Shea did further damage as Ireland comfortably qualified for the Plate decider.
In the final against Belgium, Ireland benefited from another strong start as Greer made a half-break and his pass just evaded McMahon's grasp before going into touch.
The opening try came soon after as McMahon and Brewer did some great work at a ruck on the far side in the build-up and Sheedy drew in a couple of defenders to send Greer over in the right corner.
Some dazzling footwork from Sheedy then saw him carve open the Belgian defence for a terrific try which he converted himself.
Ireland went 19-0 clear when Killeen picked up Brewer's flicked pass and surged clean through midfield to score another seven-pointer - much to the vocal Irish supporters' delight.
Belgium pulled a try back before half-time, but Killeen charged away up the left wing and passed inside for Brewer to make it 24-5 early in the second half.
Try number five followed when Sheedy went over unopposed on the blindside, cantering in after the tackled O'Shea had done well to free up possession.
Belgium fell 38-5 behind when Greer muscled in on a breakdown ball to stretch over the try-line, but Ireland looked a little tired when leaking two tries in quick succession.
Even so, they managed to have the final say as Brewer, having broken from deep, popped the ball back for O'Shea to go over and complete a well-earned 45-17 triumph.
Speaking ahead of Saturday's clash with Australia, Ireland flanker Rhys Ruddock said: "We need to bring the defensive physicality we had against South Africa, as Australia have threats all over the park. We need to be at the top of our game."
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