A new-look Ireland squad quickly got up to speed on day one of the Rugby Europe Under-18 Men’s Sevens Championship, defeating Sweden (62-0), Russia (22-10) and Italy (41-5) to progress to the quarter-final stage as comprehensive winners of Pool A.
Coached by Simon Broughton and Stan McDowell, the Ireland youngsters scored 21 tries and conceded three to emerge as one of the leading sides at the tournament in Panevezys, Lithuania, alongside fellow unbeaten pool winners France, Britain and Spain. Portugal, the Pool D runners-up, will be Ireland’s quarter-final opponents this morning at 10.58am local time/8.58am Irish time.
Glenstal Abbey’s Ronan Quinn is the only player in the current squad who was involved in last September’s European Sevens title success for the Ireland Under-18s in Heidelberg, Germany. Captaining the side this weekend, Quinn led by example with four tries in the pool campaign, closely followed by Andrew Smith and Jack Hunt with three each.
The tournament is doubling up as the European qualifying event for the Youth Olympic Games, which take place in Buenos Aires this October. Only the eventual winners in Lithuania will secure an Olympic berth, so day two is sure to be fiercely contested right from the off.
Ireland controlled their opening game against Sweden from start to finish, Ben Watson from St. Gerard’s breaking through for an early try from a Ryan O’Neill pass after a clever initial offload by Alex Kendellen. Skipper Quinn followed up with a brace by the six-minute mark, twice catching the defence for pace on the outside.
Smith ended the first half with two tries also, scooting over on the right wing following a couple of turnovers, and Watson landing both conversions to make it 31-0 at the break. Wexford Wanderers’ Brian Deeny got in on the act early in the second period, taking a return pass from O’Neill to raid over wide on the left.
St. Michael’s talent Smith weaved past four defenders to complete his hat-trick, after IQ Rugby’s Hayden Hyde had made an immediate impact off the bench. Smith provided the assist for replacement Hunt’s 12th-minute try from just outside the Swedish 22.
Hunt then offloaded to take two Swedish players out of the game and send replacement Kevin O’Connor over to the right of the posts. Waterpark’s Ben Daly converted and also added the extras to his own try past the full-time hooter, darting through the heart of the defence after a quickly-taken free-kick to wrap up the 10-try success – 62-0.
Russia proved tougher opposition in the second round, although an Ireland side showing four changes in personnel got off to another strong start. Two minutes in, scrum half O’Connor pinched possession at the rear of a Russian scrum and passed out of a tackle for the supporting Kendellen to dive over for a 5-0 lead.
Hyde doubled Ireland’s tally with a try-scoring run from halfway, putting himself through a gap with a well-timed hand-off and burst of pace. Watson converted from wide on the left before turnover ball from a scrum near the Irish line saw Russia release Evgenii Sorokin for a simple run-in on the right.
12-5 at the break became 17-5 when Hunt evaded a tackle to run in Ireland’s third try after a neat switch with Deeny, while replacement Mark O’Brien and Watson were also prominent in the build-up. Russia stayed in the hunt with a 12th minute try, getting the ball wide again for Sorokin to grab his second unconverted score.
However, Ireland made it a four tries-to-two victory when Smith stepped inside three defenders from halfway, Kendellen provided the link with a lofted pass over the top and Smith’s St. Michael’s team-mate O’Brien cut in off his left to speed through a hole in the defence and touch down for a 22-10 final scoreline.
Italy won their previous two games against Russia (22-14) and Sweden (36-0) to set up a pool decider with Ireland. There were only 36 seconds on the clock when captain Quinn showed a clean pair of heels to the Italian defence, slicing past three would-be tacklers for a superb solo try, converted by Daly.
Smith’s hard work in winning a penalty at the breakdown set the Irish attack in motion again in the third minute, Kendellen passing wide for O’Neill to finish over near the left corner. Pressure in defence from O’Neill and Smith soon forced an Italian error in their 22, and Quinn broke off the back of the resulting scrum, angling his run to score in the right corner with Daly brilliantly knocking over his third successful conversion.
A lively break from the Italians on the resumption, with a number of players getting their hands on the ball, led to Alessandro Russo reducing the arrears to 21-5. Their comeback hopes extinguished with O’Neill’s second try, the industrious Royal School Armagh student scoring via some snappy footwork from Daly and a final pass from Hyde.
Try number five followed from Kendellen, which was the product of a terrific turnover from Watson. Hyde and Deeny won possession back from the two final restarts, Hunt getting a chance to stretch his legs and run in a score on the right and Watson had the final say with an arcing run to the line from 40 metres out.
Rugby Europe are streaming the Rugby Europe Under-18 Men’s Sevens Championship games live from Panevezys this weekend at www.rugbyeurope.tv.
IRELAND UNDER-18 MEN’S SEVENS Squad (2018 Rugby Europe Under-18 Men’s Sevens Championship, Aukstaitijos Sporto Komplekse, Panevezys, Lithuania, Saturday, May 5-Sunday, May 6):
Ben Daly (Waterpark RFC/Munster)
Brian Deeny (Wexford Wanderers RFC/Leinster)
Hayden Hyde (Cranleigh School/Harlequins Academy/IQ Rugby)
Jack Hunt (Rockwell College/Munster)
Alex Kendellen (PBC Cork/Munster)
John Maher (Clongowes Wood College/Leinster)
Mark O’Brien (St. Michael’s College/Leinster)
Kevin O’Connor (Cashel RFC/Munster)
Ryan O’Neill (Royal School Armagh/Ulster)
Ronan Quinn (Glenstal Abbey/Munster) (capt)
Andrew Smith (St. Michael’s College/Leinster)
Ben Watson (St. Gerard’s School/Leinster)
IRELAND UNDER-18 MEN’S SEVENS Management:
Head Coach – Simon Broughton
Assistant Coach – Stan McDowell
Team Manager – Mark Butler
Physiotherapist – Lorcan McGee
IRELAND UNDER-18 MEN’S SEVENS Results/Fixtures –
Day 1 – Saturday, May 5:
Pool A –
Ireland U-18s 62 Sweden U-18s 0, Aukstaitijos Sporto Komplekse
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Ben Watson, Ronan Quinn 2, Andrew Smith 3, Brian Deeny, Jack Hunt, Kevin O’Connor, Ben Daly; Cons: Ben Watson 4, Ben Daly 2
Team: Brian Deeny, Ryan O’Neill, Ben Watson, Ben Daly, Ronan Quinn (capt), Andrew Smith, Alex Kendellen.
Subs used: Jack Hunt, Hayden Hyde, John Maher, Mark O’Brien, Kevin O’Connor.
Ireland U-18s 22 Russia U-18s 10, Aukstaitijos Sporto Komplekse
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Alex Kendellen, Hayden Hyde, Jack Hunt, Mark O’Brien; Con: Ben Watson
Team: Brian Deeny, John Maher, Ben Watson, Hayden Hyde, Jack Hunt, Kevin O’Connor, Alex Kendellen.
Subs used: Mark O’Brien, Ronan Quinn (capt), Andrew Smith, Ben Daly.
Ireland U-18s 41 Italy U-18s 5, Aukstaitijos Sporto Komplekse
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Ronan Quinn 2, Ryan O’Neill 2, Alex Kendellen, Jack Hunt, Ben Watson; Cons: Ben Daly 3
Team: Brian Deeny, Ryan O’Neill, Ben Daly, Hayden Hyde, Ronan Quinn (capt), Andrew Smith, Alex Kendellen.
Subs used: Ben Watson, John Maher, Jack Hunt, Mark O’Brien, Kevin O’Connor.
Day 2 – Sunday, May 6:
Cup Quarter-Final: Ireland U-18s v Portugal U-18s, Aukstaitijos Sporto Komplekse, 10.58am local time/8.58am Irish time
The full tournament fixtures, pool standings and results are available to view on the Rugby Europe website.