Ireland open their Rugby World Cup Sevens programme against Samoa on Thursday (kick-off 6.06pm local time/2.06pm Irish time) with the odds stacked against them, given Samoa’s prowess in the IRB Sevens World Series and the fact that Brian Tuohy is the only Irish player with past World Cup Sevens experience.
Samoa are currently eighth in the IRB Sevens World Series, having picked up points at the tournament in Dubai, George and San Diego.
Ironically, Ireland’s last World Cup Sevens match – back at the 2005 tournament in Hong Kong – saw them lose 19-14 to Samoa in a Plate quarter-final due to the concession of a last-minute try.
Ireland’s absence from the world circuit is certainly a handicap for this week’s World Cup event in Dubai but the Irish squad, who have six weeks of preparation behind them and have acclimatised well since touching down in the Middle East, are determined to pull off some shock results.
Commenting on the opening game, Ireland captain Kieran Campbell said: “It will be a bit of a surprise because we are not on the circuit as regularly as the other guys. But we hope that we also have a bit of surprise factor.
“Samoa are a great side and a proven Sevens team so we are just going out to do our best and hopefully we can put in a good performance.”
All three of Ireland’s Pool D opponents – Australia and Portugal being the others – are currently ranked in the top 10 in the IRB Sevens World Series but the Irish players, who are drawn from all four provinces, will not let that phase them.
Ireland have a decent World Cup Sevens pedigree, with their best ever finish coming in the inaugural event in Scotland in 1993 when an Irish side which included Eric Elwood, Paddy Johns and Mick Galwey lost 21-19 to Australia in the Cup semi-final.
Reaching the last-four of the World Cup this week would be a dream scenario for the Jon Skurr-coached 2009 squad but Campbell says the performances of the senior side in the RBS 6 Nations have given the Sevens players great encouragement.
“The 15-a-side team is doing really well. They are coming on well under Declan (Kidney), there is no doubt about it.
“They are in for a shout for the Six Nations and that gives everbody in Irish rugby, including the Sevens, a massive boost.”
Former Shannon and Munster winger Brian Tuohy is the sole survivor from the Ireland squad that reached the Plate competition at the 2005 World Cup Sevens in Hong Kong.
Skurr’s 12-man panel boasts a mix of experience and youthful talent, from senior internationals Campbell and Brian Carney down to Felix Jones and Eoghan Grace, two members of the Ireland Under-20s’ Grand Slam-winning squad of 2007.
Campbell added: “It is a completely different game for a lot of us. Some of us played in the qualifying tournaments last summer and it has taken time for us to adapt to it.
“A lot of the guys are new to it so, as I say, it is a very steep learning curve and we just have to hope we can learn quickly to give us the best opportunity to perform well.”
The Connacht scrum half explained that with such a small squad, a very good bond has formed between the players and that they are all just looking forward now to getting on with the pool matches.
“It’s a great honour to get the chance to lead your country at any time, let alone in a prestigious tournament like this,” he admitted.
“It’s fantastic (for me to be captain) and great to be part of such a good squad and a great bunch of guys.
“We’re really enjoying being here in Dubai and the whole experience of the World Cup. The Sevens Stadium is a fantastic facility but the heat can make it hard going!”
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