The Ireland Men’s Sevens squad won two of their two pool games – overcoming both Wales and Georgia – to advance to the Cup quarter-finals of the Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series tournament in Moscow.
Anthony Eddy’s young side, with eight players aged between 20 and 23, were making their debut in the top tier of European Sevens and bedded in nicely by claiming the runners-up spot in Pool A.
Winners of the European Trophy competition last summer, Ireland built some early morning momentum at the Oktyabr Stadium with a 26-5 opening round win over Wales, whose Moscow squad contained six players with World Sevens Series experience this season.
20-year-old pair Hugo Keenan and Terry Kennedy scored two tries each in the pool opener, but missed tackles hurt Ireland in their clash with a strong Germany team who ran out 28-21 winners, the Irish scores coming from Harry McNulty, Ian Fitzpatrick and Nick Timoney.
Germany finished fourth in last year’s European Grand Prix Series and Ireland’s last opponents in the pool stages, Georgia, were fifth. An early try from Niko Aptsiauri had the men in green under pressure, but a brace from McNulty and a Jordan Conroy score helped them gain a tight 19-14 victory over the Georgians.
The two pool triumphs saw Eddy’s charges finish second behind Germany and set up a Cup quarter-final against Portugal, who were seventh in last year’s Series and defeated two experimental France and England sides on day 1 in Moscow. Tomorrow’s last-eight tie kicks off at 10.44am local time/8.44am Irish time.
Having conceded an early try to Wales’ Owen Jenkins from his own kick through, Ireland managed to canter clear of their Celtic rivals thanks to 26 unanswered points, including two tries in each half. Conroy supplied the final pass for Keenan to go over wide on the right, the first of two quick-fire scores.
Wales were undone by captain Billy Dardis’ superb restart, the hard-working McNulty gobbling up possession and setting Kennedy free for a try in the left corner. A marginally forward pass from Keenan prevented the St. Mary’s speedster from nabbing his second before half-time.
12-5 is how it stood at the turnaround and Kennedy duly completed his brace to widen the margin to 14 points. He did well to collect Fitzpatrick’s looping pass and take advantage of a slip by a Welsh defender to scoot up the left touchline, giving Dardis a straightforward conversion from in front of the posts.
Buccaneers flyer Conroy popped up on both wings, carrying an increasing threat as did eager replacement Mick McGrath who weighed in with a trademark big hand-off. The slippery underfoot conditions thwarted both sides until Ireland signed off with a fourth try.
Fionn Carr, the squad’s elder statesman at 31, was just held up after breaking from a ruck 10 metres out, but Ireland kept pressing and were rewarded when UCD clubman Keenan fended off two defenders to canter in behind the posts, with Dardis adding the extras.
Ireland were first out of the blocks in their middle game against Germany, who have been knocking on the door of World Series qualification. Conroy made the initial incision and McNulty used a strong hand-off to go in under the posts in clinical fashion.
Dardis, who fired over the conversion, soon broke through midfield before McNulty was unable to link with Kennedy near the right touchline. However, Ireland were rocked by the concession of two seven-pointers in the final three minutes of the half.
A clever kick through teed up big Steffen Liebig for Germany’s opener and poor Irish defence from the restart allowed Tim Litchenberg to tear towards the posts before Robin Plumpe crashed over from close range, giving his side a 14-7 buffer.
A missed tackle from Fitzpatrick was ruthlessly punished for Germany’s third try, with Plumpe’s pass back inside seeing Seb Fromm, a number familiar to followers of Dublin University and the Ulster Bank League, cross the whitewash.
Replacement Mark Roche ignited Ireland’s response, brilliantly wriggling away from three defenders and Fitzpatrick was his shoulder to finish over a much-needed try, converted by Roche himself with 11 minutes on the clock.
The Germans restored their double-scores lead – 28-14 – when the unfortunate McNulty slipped as he took a quick tap, Ireland were vulnerable to a kick on the counter and the pressure in their 22 eventually told, with Johannes Schreieck going over from a few metres out.
There was still time for Ireland to set up a tense finale, as good hands released Ulster Academy member Timoney who charged up the right touchline to notch Ireland’s third try in the dying seconds. Roche swung over a tremendous conversion to make it a seven-point game again, yet Germany scrambled the all-important restart back onto their side and booted the ball to touch past the hooter.
Ireland had to come from behind in their decisive final round showdown with Georgia, the imposing Aptsiauri evading the clutches of Timoney and Roche to register the opening try just two minutes in.
It was all square for half-time – 7-7 – as Timoney’s break up the right wing and well-timed pass for McNulty saw Ireland hit back in the fourth minute, with Roche adding the extras. They also had some decent possession late on, Conroy getting a chance to stretch his legs before Timoney was isolated at a ruck and the penalty decision went Georgia’s way.
Ireland’s ball retention continued to improve in the second period and Conroy opened his account in the ninth minute, jinking inside a defender to score on the left. Roche tagged on a well-struck conversion.
The gap was out to 12 points with two minutes remaining. Georgia fell foul of the referee’s whistle, inviting Ireland forward to set up a couple of close-in lineout opportunities. Keenan and Fitzpatrick used set piece ball to threaten in midfield before McNulty slipped away from two defenders to touch down wide on the right. McGrath deserves a mention for a great clear-out in the build-up.
Dardis was unable to convert this time and Ireland were pinged for being ahead of the kicker at the restart. Georgia made them pay as Levan Gogolashvili stepped inside the covering McNulty for a seven-pointer, making it 19-14. Importantly, Ireland were handed back possession via a miscued Georgian restart and after a strong carry from John O’Donnell, McNulty’s final kick to touch confirmed a hard-fought win.
IRELAND MEN’S SEVENS Squad (2017 Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series – Round 1, Oktyabr Stadium, Moscow, Russia, Saturday, June 3-Sunday, June 4):
Fionn Carr (Naas)
Jordan Conroy (Buccaneers)
Billy Dardis (UCD) (capt)
Ian Fitzpatrick (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Hugo Keenan (UCD/Leinster)
Terry Kennedy (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
Mick McGrath (Clontarf)
Harry McNulty (UCD)
Jimmy O’Brien (UCD/Leinster)
John O’Donnell (Lansdowne)
Mark Roche (Lansdowne)
Nick Timoney (Queen’s University/Ulster)
IRELAND MEN’S SEVENS Results/Fixtures –
Saturday, June 3 – Pool A:
Wales 5 Ireland 26, Oktyabr Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Hugo Keenan 2, Terry Kennedy 2; Cons: Billy Dardis 3
Team: Nick Timoney, Ian Fitzpatrick, Harry McNulty, Billy Dardis (capt), Hugo Keenan, Terry Kennedy, Jordan Conroy.
Subs used: John O’Donnell, Fionn Carr, Mick McGrath. Not used: Mark Roche, Jimmy O’Brien.
Germany 28 Ireland 21, Oktyabr Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Harry McNulty, Ian Fitzpatrick, Nick Timoney; Cons: Billy Dardis, Mark Roche 2
Team: John O’Donnell, Ian Fitzpatrick, Harry McNulty, Billy Dardis (capt), Hugo Keenan, Terry Kennedy, Jordan Conroy.
Subs used: Nick Timoney, Fionn Carr, Mark Roche, Jimmy O’Brien, Mick McGrath.
Georgia 14 Ireland 19, Oktyabr Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Harry McNulty 2, Jordan Conroy; Cons: Mark Roche 2
Team: Nick Timoney, Harry McNulty (capt), Fionn Carr, Mark Roche, Hugo Keenan, Jimmy O’Brien, Jordan Conroy.
Subs used: John O’Donnell, Ian Fitzpatrick, Billy Dardis, Terry Kennedy, Mick McGrath.
Sunday, June 4:
Cup Quarter-Final: Portugal v Ireland, Oktyabr Stadium, 10.44am local time/8.44am Irish time
The full results/pools are available on the Rugby Europe tournament page. Live streaming of the matches will be on www.rugbyeurope.tv. For information on the RWC Sevens qualification process, click here.