A week on from their bronze medal success at Twickenham, the Ireland Men’s Sevens team added Australia to their growing list of scalps as they topped Pool C at the final HSBC World Rugby Sevens tournament of the season in Paris.
Marshalled again by IRFU Sevens coach Stan McDowell and team manager James Topping, Ireland went unbeaten on day one of the Paris Sevens with wins over Spain (14-5) and Australia (24-14), coupled with a 19-all draw with Celtic rivals Wales.
Their form in France is all the more impressive given that they are blooding six more World Series debutants this week – Shane Daly, Alex McHenry, James O’Donovan, teenager Sean Cribbin, Greg O’Shea and Adam Leavy, younger brother of Leinster and Ireland star Dan Leavy.
The youthful squad, which has an average age of just 22, overcame a couple of considerable setbacks which could have derailed them. They lost captain Billy Dardis to a head injury in their opening game against Spain, bringing 13th man Mark Roche into the fray, and Jordan Conroy, their try-scoring star from London, went off with a knock against Australia.
Ireland will hope to have Conroy back to full fitness for tomorrow morning’s Cup quarter-final against Canada (kick-off 10.35am local time/9.35am Irish time). Win or lose, they are already guaranteed some more top class fixtures with possible rematches with either Fiji or England in the offing.
Leinster Academy member Terry Kennedy, who scored two tries off the bench today, told IrishRugby.ie: “It’s great to come through unscathed with two wins and a draw. Tough games, we started off with a good win against Spain. We probably didn’t play our best but then we upped it a bit against Wales, came out with a draw, and probably saved our best for last to come out with a good win against Australia.
“It’s huge (to beat Australia who are fourth in the overall series) – firstly to get through to the quarter-finals and then, secondly, to right the wrongs from last week. We played pretty poorly against them last week (losing 33-7) and felt we didn’t do ourselves justice. It was good to get out there and do much better today.
“We beat a couple of big teams on the second day last week. Hopefully more of that tomorrow if we can back up what we did today. Canada are a good side, they’re physical, they bring a lot of intensity at the breakdown and they carry strong. We have to be on our best form and hopefully put in a performance to get the result.”
The early signs were promising against Spain under an overcast sky at Stade Jean-Bouin, Ireland having the first possession but McHenry just overran Harry McNulty’s pass on the right wing. A strong tackle from McNulty prevented the Spanish from breaking out of their half, while Jimmy O’Brien soon probed on the opposite flank with a kick through.
Both teams were guilty of errors in possession, and a groggy Dardis, who injured himself in a tackle, made way for Suttonians young gun Cribbin. Kennedy coughed up a penalty in Ireland’s attempts to attack from deep past the half-time hooter, and Spain punished them as Pol Pla managed to dot down out wide despite the best efforts of McHenry.
An important tackle and poach by Cribbin broke up Spanish momentum on the restart, and two more of the series newcomers inspired Ireland’s opening score. Daly broke out of the 22 on the right before possession was swung out to the left where a determined Mollen outpaced two defenders from halfway to raid in behind the posts.
Cribbin, who was involved in the build-up, converted from straight in front and Ireland managed to absorb further pressure in defence, preventing Spain from responding with the influential Mollen making two key tackles. The killer blow came late on when McNulty invited Conroy to have a cut and the Tullamore man evaded the clutches of Pla near the left touchline to run in the clinching seven-pointer from 80-plus metres.
Roche took over the scrum half and captaincy duties against Wales, and Ireland survived McHenry’s harsh yellow card for what was deemed a deliberate knock-on, even taking the lead while a man down. Roche expertly attacked around the fringes, gained ground and his offload was picked up by Conroy for another jet-heeled surge to the line, with Luke Morgan unable to catch him.
There were six minutes on the clock when Wales levelled, their speedster Morgan cutting inside from his left wing berth and good ball retention led to Luke Treharne stepping inside Daly to dart in behind the posts and convert. However, Ireland made sure they led 12-7 at the interval, a training ground move in midfield seeing Mollen burst in between two defenders, jink away from Treharne and back his pace to go over for a classy score in the right corner.
Morgan moved Wales in front for the first time with a high-quality 10th-minute try, gaining revenge on Conroy with a stutter step and his impressive acceleration up the left wing. Their individual battle continued with Conroy twice bringing Morgan down on the opposite flank, leading to crucial turnover ball.
Picking up possession at a ruck, replacement Kennedy seized his opportunity to break over halfway, evading Treharne’s tackle and sprinting clear of the chasing Lloyd Evans to round in behind the posts. Roche’s conversion made it 19-14 with little over two minutes remaining, but the game took another couple of twists.
Daly did the hard work in tracking back to cover a dangerous Welsh kick close to the posts, only for Kennedy’s subsequent pass to be intercepted by Wales captain Adam Thomas who crossed just to the left of the posts. Thomas Williams badly pulled the conversion off target, though, and had O’Shea held onto a Kennedy pass in the final play, he may have had the gas to run in the match winner. Instead, both sides had to be content with two hard-earned points from the draw.
It was knockout rugby in the final round of the pool stages with Ireland sitting on five points, Australia on four and Spain leapfrogging both with a 21-14 success against Wales. The must-win scenario made for an edgy start, although Ireland pressed well in defence with seven in the line.
O’Brien was unfortunate to lose his footing and cough up a penalty, which developed into Australia’s first try as their captain Lewis Holland attacked around the fringes and made it over with just under three minutes gone, adding the conversion himself for a 7-0 lead.
That concession brought the best out of Ireland, Kennedy, McHenry and O’Brien gobbling up the metres to reach Australian territory. McNulty’s big hand-off and looping pass saw Ireland convert an overlap on the left as Daly kept a fine team move going and McHenry’s pass back inside sent Kennedy in behind the posts for Roche to convert.
Daly soared to win the restart and got his hands free to send Mollen on his way to the try-line. A combination of three Australians just managed to hold him up, but a free-kick from the five-metre scrum allowed Roche to tap and dive over for an opportunist converted score and a 14-7 half-time advantage.
Impressive continuity, with big forwards McNulty and Daly gaining yards and replacement O’Shea increasing his threat out wide, ended with Roche’s fantastic diving finish for a try in the left corner after picking up from a close-in ruck. He missed the difficult conversion on the near side.
The gap was briefly out to 12 points before speedster Maurice Longbottom lifted the Australians by springing clean through from a ruck and running over unopposed from just outside his own 22. That set up a grandstand finish at 19-14 and just three minutes left.
Australia went too long with the restart, giving Ireland a free-kick on halfway and the men in green gave an exhibition of keep-ball and control of the ruck under immense pressure, wearing down the defence with 19 passes – and some momentum-building bursts from key men Mollen, McNulty and Kennedy – as O’Shea eventually bounced off a big tackle from Lachlan Anderson and slipped the ball away for Leavy to touch down wide on the right and settle the issue.
Following the Paris Sevens, the Ireland Men’s side are next in action in Marcoussis in France for the second round of the Rugby Europe Grand Prix Series (June 30-July 1), and the following week they compete at the third round in Exeter (July 7-8).
The Ireland Men’s and Women’s Sevens teams will both compete at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco over the weekend of July 20-22 at AT&T Park. RWC Sevens tickets are available here. The final round of the Rugby Europe Grand Prix takes place in Lodz, Poland on September 8-9.
For the Ireland men to become a core team on the World Series, they must be one of the top three ranked sides at the end of the Rugby Europe Grand Prix series. This will see them qualify for next year’s World Series qualifying tournament in Hong Kong – they lost at the semi-final stage of this season’s qualifier in April. The winners of 2019 qualifier in Hong Kong will claim a place on the 2019/20 World Series.
The Ireland Sevens jerseys are available to buy online here from Elverys Intersport, official sports retailer of the IRFU.
– Paris Sevens photos by Sam O’Byrne and Neil Kennedy
IRELAND MEN’S SEVENS Squad (2017/18 HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series – Paris Sevens, Stade Jean-Bouin, Paris, France, Saturday, June 9-Sunday, June 10):
Sean Cribbin (Suttonians)
Jordan Conroy (Buccaneers)
Shane Daly (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Billy Dardis (UCD) (capt)
Hugo Keenan (UCD/Leinster)
Terry Kennedy (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
Adam Leavy (Lansdowne/Connacht)
Alex McHenry (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Harry McNulty (UCD)
Bryan Mollen (Dublin University)
Jimmy O’Brien (UCD/Leinster)
James O’Donovan (Old Wesley)
Greg O’Shea (Shannon)
Mark Roche (Blackrock College)
IRELAND MEN’S SEVENS Results/Fixtures – Paris Sevens:
Saturday, June 9 –
Ireland 14 Spain 5, Stade Jean-Bouin
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Bryan Mollen, Jordan Conroy; Cons: Sean Cribbin 2
Team: Harry McNulty, Shane Daly, Alex McHenry, Billy Dardis (capt), Jimmy O’Brien, Terry Kennedy, Jordan Conroy.
Subs used: Sean Cribbin, Bryan Mollen, James O’Donovan. Not used: Greg O’Shea, Adam Leavy.
Ireland 19 Wales 19, Stade Jean-Bouin
Scorers: Ireland Tries: Jordan Conroy, Bryan Mollen, Terry Kennedy; Cons: Mark Roche 2
Team: Harry McNulty, Shane Daly, Alex McHenry, Mark Roche (capt), Jimmy O’Brien, Bryan Mollen, Jordan Conroy.
Subs used: Terry Kennedy, Greg O’Shea, Adam Leavy, James O’Donovan. Not used: Sean Cribbin.
Ireland 24 Australia 14, Stade Jean-Bouin
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Terry Kennedy, Mark Roche 2, Adam Leavy; Cons: Mark Roche 2
Team: Harry McNulty, Shane Daly, Alex McHenry, Mark Roche (capt), Jimmy O’Brien, Bryan Mollen, Jordan Conroy.
Subs used: Terry Kennedy, Greg O’Shea, James O’Donovan, Adam Leavy. Not used: Sean Cribbin.
Sunday, June 10 –
Cup Quarter-Final: Ireland v Canada, Stade Jean-Bouin, 10.35am local time/9.35am Irish time
The Paris Sevens is being broadcast live across Sky Sports this weekend, while World Rugby are offering streaming in non geo-blocked locations: www.worldrugby.org/sevens-series/where-can-i-watch.