The Ireland Men’s Sevens squad won three of their five matches and secured the Bowl title at the inaugural Silicon Valley 7s tournament, which was played over the weekend at Avaya Stadium in San Jose.
Ireland’s Stateside debut saw them twice claim the scalp of World Sevens Series core team Canada, and having narrowly missed out on a Cup quarter-final place on Saturday night, they responded with back-to-back wins over China (38-5) and Canada (19-12).
Nine different players contributed tries across the two days, with speedsters Terry Kennedy and Jordan Conroy leading the way with three apiece. Terenure College youngster Tim Schmidt also showed some nice touches on his international Sevens debut.
Apart from a disappointing 26-5 defeat to England which denied them a last-eight spot, Ireland turned in a series of impressive defensive displays with 12 points the most they conceded in four of their five games – four of which were against World Series regulars.
The Ireland men will be back in action at the Dubai 7s next month, as they continue to build towards April’s World Series qualifying tournament in Hong Kong and and their return to California in July for the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco.
In Saturday’s Pool A opener in San Jose, Ireland took on hard-hitting Samoa, who are warming up for next week’s Oceania Sevens Championship, and there were positive early signs with Ian Fitzpatrick making a 50-metre break and Harry McNulty intercepting a pass to break up some Samoan pressure.
The wet and overcast conditions made for a greasy pitch and it was difficult for both sides to create opportunities. Despite Samoa having most of the possession and territory, Ireland’s defence held firm and Will Connors and Greg O’Shea combined to win a relieving penalty at the breakdown.
After a scoreless first half, McNulty led the charge with some key involvements, tidying up the restart tapped down by Bryan Mollen, taking a subsequent quick tap, and then combining with Connors to send Mollen over in the left corner for an eighth-minute try. Captain Billy Dardis was the one to make the midfield incision during the build-up.
Mollen’s well-finished score, which saw him step inside a defender, went unconverted with Dardis unfortunate to see his kick bounce back off the right hand post. As the rain grew heavier, Samoa hit back with the levelling try when the powerful Jacob Ale shrugged off Kennedy’s attempted tackle to run in from 35 metres out.
With less than two minutes remaining, the greasy ball foiled Ireland when it went loose from a Samoan ruck in the Irish 22 and although the South Seas Islanders’ subsequent pass did not go to hand, Joe Perez was able to scoop up possession near the right touchline, evade Fitzpatrick’s despairing tackle and secure a tight 10-5 win for his side.
Canada were 19-10 winners over England in the first round and came to San Jose with a squad boasting 11 players with World Series experience. Returning to the starting line-up, Conroy was unable to hold onto McNulty’s offload as he looked to break out of the 22 in the early exchanges.
From the resulting scrum, Canada had scrappy ball but Liam Underwood managed to evade both Dardis and McNulty for a softly-conceded try from Ireland’s point of view. Underwood sent the conversion wide and Ireland had a man advantage straight from the restart, Jared Douglas seeing yellow for taking out Connors in the air.
However, a gilt-edge scoring chance went a-begging, Conroy doing the hard work in getting his hands free in a double tackle but Mollen fumbled the pass. The latter two paired up in defence soon after to bundle the returning Douglas into touch after a Canadian raid up the right wing, while Mark Roche, Connors and McNulty’s efforts at the breakdown broke up another attack.
Canada came out strong at the start of the second period, using their physicality well before Dardis made a try-saving tackle and McNulty was well placed to steal possession on the deck. A penalty saw Dardis boot Ireland into a good position downfield, from which play was moved across to the right wing where Conroy ran hard at Matt Mullins and then skinned him on the outside for a terrific 11th-minute try, converted by Dardis to move Ireland in front (7-5).
With Canada unable to break out of their own half, Ireland seized control with John O’Donnell, Shane Daly and Kennedy all making an impact off the bench. The latter ran across to the right to feed Conroy who caught Isaac Kaay flatfooted with another classy step and show of speed in an almost carbon copy of his first try.
It turned into a nightmare finish for Canada as Daly got up well to compete for Dardis’ restart and the ball broke for the onrushing Roche to collect and touch down to the left of the posts. The extras were added by Dardis with the final kick of the game, giving the men in green a well-judged 19-5 victory.
With the pool particularly tight head into the final round, Ireland knew that a win or draw against England would put them into the last-eight. O’Shea, who came back into the starting selection, made good ground in the English 22 in the opening minute before England got the ball back on their side to counter from deep.
The breakthrough came when Harry Glover took advantage of Connors’ slip in midfield and handed off Mollen to dot down under the posts. Despite acrobatic work by McNulty to gobble up the restart, O’Shea soon coughed up a penalty and then Will Edwards ducked under the Shannon clubman’s tackle to run in a fourth minute try which he converted himself.
A disappointing half from an Irish perspective ended with a third concession, the long-striding Will Muir finding a gap between Connors and McNulty to make it 21-0 at the interval. They added a fourth try, three minutes into the second half, with Conroy having to hobble off and Fergus Guiry then tearing away to score in the left corner.
There was a positive finish from Ireland with Schmidt pinching possession to launch a late counter attack. When play came back to the near side, lovely hands from Roche and Schmidt gave Kennedy the chance to race up and chip over Edwards, who was first to the bouncing ball but made a mess of it and Kennedy pounced for a consolation score in a 26-5 reversal.
That left Ireland hoping to advance as one of the best third place finishers, but they were edged out by New Zealand who claimed the eighth and final quarter-final spot after recovering from two earlier losses. Ireland were ranked ninth of the 12 teams after day 1 and entered the Bowl competition along with Canada, Tonga and China.
Coached by Stan McDowell and managed by James Topping on site, the Irish squad began a sunny day 2 with a bang against China, John O’Donnell breaking onto Connors’ tap-down of the kick-off to touch down inside the opening seconds. Connors then juggled a Chinese pass before completing the intercept and O’Donnell’s lofted pass played in Conroy for try number two, from the right wing.
10-0 quickly became 17-0 after Dardis’ pinpoint restart was plucked down by Roche and he fed the supporting O’Donnell for a textbook try under the posts. A sustained bout of pressure yielded a try for China’s Ma Chong before the half-time hooter, keeping them in the hunt at 12 points down.
Leg-pumping runs from Connors and O’Donnell saw Ireland wrestle back control of the game, with the latter freeing up Dardis to scamper in under the posts from 35 metres out. A fifth try followed in the 11th minute as replacement McNulty strolled over after good work again from O’Donnell just over halfway.
Schmidt, who came on for Dardis, left-footed the straightforward conversion through the uprights and also added the extras to Daly’s final score, which saw the Cork Constitution ace snap up a loose ruck ball, throw a dummy and beat a defender to go over close to the posts and close out a 38-5 success.
The Bowl final was a rematch between two Pool A rivals, Ireland and Canada, who kicked off without the sidelined Conroy and John Moonlight. Despite a decent early platform for Ireland, it was Canada who took a second-minute lead, Liam Underwood countering brilliantly from his own 22 and bouncing off Dardis before taking a return pass from Luke McCloskey to go over just to the left of the posts.
Great work off the restart from McNulty saw him gallop over halfway, evading two tacklers and connecting with O’Donnell who raced up into the 22 and passed for Kennedy to finish off a brilliantly-crafted try in the corner. Dardis’ conversion attempt felt short at five points apiece.
Fitzpatrick picked up a seven-pointer soon after, this time stepping his way in under the posts after Connors and Roche had done really well to retain possession from the restart. The latter also used a quick tap to bring Ireland back into the Canadian 22 and good passing and movement then unlocked the defence.
Canada’s persistence paid off past the half-time hooter, Underwood nabbing his second try out wide after Ireland had looked like they might hold out. The impressive Connors had produced a try-saving tackle just a few metres out from his own line, but the Canadians shown their experience to go through the phases and work numbers on the left for Underwood to bring them level at 12-all.
Pat Kay almost conjured up a third Canadian try on the resumption, his clever kick through from a penalty was touched down by Phil Berna but he had one foot – if not two – out over the end-line. There was no doubt about Kennedy’s match-winning score in the tenth minute, a nice move off a lineout inviting the St. Mary’s College flyer forward on the opposite wing and he skipped in between two defenders for a smart finish. Another clean strike from Dardis tagged on the two additional points.
Ireland backed their reliable defence to see out the result, only letting Canada out of their half once during the final minutes. In the end, the Canadians could not get back into scoring range and a perfectly-positioned McNulty got in at the breakdown to force a penalty, which allowed Dardis to tap and kick the ball dead on the hooter as Ireland triumphed 19-12.
Anthony Eddy, ?IRFU Director of Sevens Rugby, commented: “Once again this experience is extremely valuable for the squad and although we did not have a great day 1, it was pleasing to see the boys back up and perform better on day 2. We now look forward to a good performance in Dubai next month.”
Click here to view the Silicon Valley 7s tournament website, with full tables, stats and results.
IRELAND MEN’S SEVENS Squad (2017 Silicon Valley 7s Tournament, Avaya Stadium, San Jose, California, USA, Saturday, November 4-Sunday, November 5):
Will Connors (UCD/Leinster)
Jordan Conroy (Buccaneers/Connacht)
Shane Daly (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Billy Dardis (UCD) (capt)
Ian Fitzpatrick (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Terry Kennedy (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
Harry McNulty (UCD)
Bryan Mollen (Dublin University)
John O’Donnell (Lansdowne)
Greg O’Shea (Shannon)
Mark Roche (Blackrock College)
Tim Schmidt (Terenure College)
IRELAND MEN’S SEVENS Results –
Silicon Valley 7s:
Saturday, November 4 – Pool A:
Samoa 10 Ireland 5, Avaya Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Try: Bryan Mollen
HT: Samoa 0 Ireland 0
Team: Ian Fitzpatrick, Harry McNulty, Billy Dardis (capt), Will Connors, Greg O’Shea, Terry Kennedy, Bryan Mollen.
Subs: John O’Donnell, Shane Daly, Tim Schmidt, Mark Roche, Jordan Conroy.
Canada 5 Ireland 19, Avaya Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Jordan Conroy 2, Mark Roche; Cons: Billy Dardis 2
HT: Canada 5 Ireland 0
Team: Ian Fitzpatrick, Harry McNulty, Billy Dardis (capt), Will Connors, Mark Roche, Jordan Conroy, Bryan Mollen.
Subs: John O’Donnell, Shane Daly, Tim Schmidt, Greg O’Shea, Terry Kennedy.
England 26 Ireland 5, Avaya Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Try: Terry Kennedy
HT: England 21 Ireland 0
Team: Ian Fitzpatrick, Harry McNulty, Billy Dardis (capt), Will Connors, Greg O’Shea, Jordan Conroy, Bryan Mollen.
Subs: John O’Donnell, Shane Daly, Tim Schmidt, Mark Roche, Terry Kennedy.
Sunday, November 5:
Bowl Semi-Final: Ireland 38 China 5, Avaya Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: John O’Donnell 2, Jordan Conroy, Billy Dardis, Harry McNulty, Shane Daly; Cons: Billy Dardis 2, Tim Schmidt 2
HT: Ireland 17 China 5
Team: John O’Donnell, Shane Daly, Billy Dardis (capt), Will Connors, Mark Roche, Terry Kennedy, Jordan Conroy.
Subs: Ian Fitzpatrick, Harry McNulty, Greg O’Shea, Tim Schmidt, Bryan Mollen.
Bowl Final: Ireland 19 Canada 12, Avaya Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Terry Kennedy 2, Ian Fitzpatrick; Cons: Billy Dardis 2
HT: Ireland 12 Canada 12
Team: John O’Donnell, Ian Fitzpatrick, Harry McNulty, Billy Dardis (capt), Will Connors, Mark Roche, Terry Kennedy.
Subs: Shane Daly, Greg O’Shea, Tim Schmidt, Bryan Mollen.
IRELAND MEN’S SEVENS 2017/18 Tournament Schedule –
Oktoberfest 7s, Munich, Germany – September 29-30 (Seventh Place)
Elche 7s, Elche, Spain – October 28-29 (Runners-Up)
Silicon Valley 7s, San Jose, USA – November 4-5 (Bowl Champions)
Dubai 7s, Dubai, UAE – December 1-2
Hong Kong 7s (World Series Repechage), Hong Kong – April 7-8
Amsterdam 7s, Amsterdam, Netherlands – June 9-10
Rugby World Cup Sevens, San Francisco, USA – July 20-22