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Dubai Kick-off For Ireland Sevens Squad

Dubai Kick-off For Ireland Sevens Squad

The rollercoaster that is the IRB International Sevens series gets under way in Dubai tomorrow, and Ireland coach Ryan Constable has admitted his young squad will be “up against it.”

The rollercoaster that is the IRB International Sevens series gets under way in Dubai tomorrow, and Ireland coach Ryan Constable has admitted his young squad will be “up against it.”

A first Sevens visit to the Emirates capital since Ireland – boosted by the likes of Gordon D’Arcy, Matt Mostyn and Gavin Duffy – defeated Morocco 27-19 to win the Bowl final in 2000, sees Constable and his 12-man squad, with an average age of just 23, begin their preparations for next March’s Hong Kong World Cup.

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Buoyed by last season’s FIRA-AER tournament win in Sopot, Poland, and having qualified for the Sevens World Cup with a third place in Mallorca in July, the Irish – who include two of last season’s Under 21 World Cup finalists – Tomas O’Leary (pictured) and John Hearty – arrived in Dubai on Monday with a degree of optimism.

33-year-old Constable – captain of the Australian Sevens side for two seasons – knows however, that the next two weeks, which culminate with a second outing in George, South Africa (December 10-11), are all about gaining experience for Hong Kong.

“The two tournaments are about getting us to compete again at this level,” said the former Ulster centre. “We are up against teams who have been operating at a high international standard for six or seven years, so it will be an eye opener, but excellent experience for the squad.”

Ireland have not competed at this level since the London Sevens in 2002.

“The way the tournaments are set up, it’s never a forgone conclusion which teams will make the quarter finals – with the likes of Argentina and Kenya always improving,” added Constable.

“We are certainly up against it – some teams have been in two-week training camps, whereas we just arrived at the start of the week. Australia, for instance, have been working with two squads for the past 11 weeks for these tournaments, but we will give it our best shot.”

Constable’s squad, hit by the scheduling of the Heineken Cup over the next fortnight, has six new caps – Ulster duo Gary Brown and Seamus Mallon, Leinster’s James Norton and Niall Ronan, O’Leary and Loughborough University’s Mark Bruce.

Having settled in Dubai’s 80-degree temperatures, they had a recovery session on Monday, together with organisational run-outs, both yesterday and today.

An unkind draw sees the Irish take on last year’s Dubai champions South Africa and perennial Sevens favourites Fiji tomorrow. Portugal, a side who Constable rates highly, complete the Pool D line-up.

“We are ranked thirteenth of 16 teams. South Africa and Fiji will command a lot of the attention but Portugal are the top-ranked European side – having won in Mallorca – so we will have to be on our toes against them,” he said.

“We begin against Fiji and they are a tough, physical side. We have no video analysis of them, but they are always a handful. It will be key for us to deny them any space, be organised across the field and work well off our set pieces.”

Ireland’s only doubtful starter for tomorrow is Clontarf full back David Hewitt (stomach bug).

IRELAND SQUAD (Dubai and George):

(1) Gary Brown (Ulster – Belfast Harlequins)
(2) Mark Bruce (Loughborough University)
(3) David Hewitt (Leinster – Clontarf)
(4) Ian Humphreys (Belfast Harlequins)
(5) Chris Keane (Connacht – Buccaneers)
(6) Seamus Mallon (Ulster – Dungannon)
(7) Michael McComish (Ballymena)
(8) Martin McPhail (Munster – UL Bohemian)
(9) James Norton (Leinster – UCD)
(10) Tomas O’Leary (Dolphin)
(11) Niall Ronan (Leinster – Lansdowne)
(12) John Hearty (Leinster – Blackrock College)

FIXTURES: December 2: Pool D: (all Irish times)

IRELAND v Fiji, Dubai Exiles ground, 6.46am
South Africa v IRELAND, 10.40am
IRELAND v Portugal, 1.14pm