The Ireland Sevens team, sponsored by Independent News and Media, will travel to Hannover in Germany next weekend with the carrot of automatic qualification for the 2009 IRB World Cup Sevens tournament in Dubai up for grabs.
The squad is being coached by Jon Skurr and has progressed successfully through the previous qualification rounds that took place in May in Denmark, where they finished as runners-up to an experienced Wales team, and then in Poland, where they won the tournament.
The final stage in the FIRA-AER qualification process for the World Cup in Hannover has Ireland named as the third seeds in the competition, with strong Sevens exponents Portugal top seeds and Wales as second seeds.
Spain are the fourth seeds and the other eight teams will be Russia, Italy, Ukraine, the hosts Germany, Romania, Poland, Belgium and Georgia.
Coach Skurr has named his 12-man squad to play in Hannover and includes the majority of players who have been part of the previous qualifying tournaments.
Cian Aherne, Richard Briggs, James Coughlan, Chris Henry, Seamus Mallon, Conor McPhillips, Andrew Maxwell and international Kieran Campbell all took some part in the previous rounds.
The squad is bolstered with the inclusion of Ireland ‘A’ Churchill Cup players Darren Cave, Ian Keatley, who have both already played for the Sevens team, Keith Earls and Brian Touhy.
Only the top five teams at the end of the tournament will automatically qualify for the World Cup next year, so manager Hugh McCaughey and the rest of the squad are focusing on preparing well in an effort to qualify for the finals in Dubai.
McCaughey said: “Our minimum goal at the start of this campaign was always to qualify for the World Cup and we have been happy with our performances to get to this point. The squad has developed and improved since our first outing in May, but this tournament will require another step up in performance.
“The skills required for Sevens play and the tactical awareness of the players has improved greatly in our time together and with a strong squad we believe we are in with a chance of winning the tournament if things go well.
“Next week we will come together for a short training camp before heading to Germany on Thursday ahead of our first game on Saturday.
“Although we are at the end of the season, the boys are very much up for it and have enjoyed the tournaments so far, so hopefully we can come home with the prize of qualification,” he added.
IRELAND SEVENS Squad (FIRA-AER European Sevens, July 12-13, Hannover, Germany):
Cian Aherne (UCD/Leinster)
Richard Briggs (Esher)
Kieran Campbell (club tbc/Connacht)
Darren Cave (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster)
James Coughlan (Dolphin/Munster)
Keith Earls (Garryowen/Munster)
Chris Henry (Malone/Ulster)
Ian Keatley (club tbc/Connacht)
Seamus Mallon (Ballymena/Ulster)
Conor McPhillips (St. Mary’s College/Connacht)
Andrew Maxwell (Edinburgh)
Brian Tuohy (Cornish Pirates)