Three well-judged victories catapulted Ireland into the Cup quarter-finals of the Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series tournament in Exeter, as they extended their winning streak in European action this summer to 15 matches.
Anthony Eddy’s charges accounted for Sweden (43-0), Italy (43-7) and France (33-5), scoring 19 tries and conceding just two in the process, to set up a quarter-final clash with Georgia, Pool C’s third-placed team, at Sandy Park tomorrow (kick-off 11.30am). Day two of the Exeter 7s is live on Sky Sports Action and www.rugbyeurope.tv – tickets are available to buy here.
Terry Kennedy, who returned after missing Marcoussis last weekend, started only one game but led the scoring with four tries, closely followed by Shane Daly, Jordan Conroy and Hugo Keenan who had three each. Team captain Billy Dardis touched down against Sweden and Italy and landed nine of his conversion attempts for a 28-point haul.
Six players crossed the whitewash for ultra-efficient Ireland in their tournament opener against Sweden, the 2017 Rugby Europe Trophy champions. They were foiled in their first attack via a Dardis half-break, with a subsequent knock-on from Foster Horan handing possession to the Swedes.
However, the Moscow and Marcoussis title winners were quickly in full control of the scoreboard with Kennedy winning a penalty at the breakdown and darting out to the left where he fed John O’Donnell to notch a second-minute try, converted with a curling kick from Dardis. Kennedy’s pacy finish on the blindside added a swift second score at 14-0.
A knock-on denied Conroy a try with his first touch of the game, following good work again from the restart by Harry McNulty, Kennedy and Horan, and the latter grabbed try number three from close range soon after, combining with Dardis to claim turnover ball out the back of a Swedish scrum in their 22.
It was 26-0 at the interval thanks to Dardis slaloming through for a try past the hooter after a wraparound move with McNulty who did really well to tie in defenders and release possession. Barely a minute into the second period, Kennedy jinked away from Sweden captain Ian Gowland on a superb try-scoring run from his own 22, with Jimmy O’Brien supplying the conversion.
Maintaining a high work-rate and intensity in defence, Ireland contained Sweden inside their own half and closed out the match with two more tries. O’Brien and Horan engineered a chance out wide for Robert Baloucoune to go over unopposed, and fellow replacement Daly had the final say, touching down to the right of the posts courtesy of Horan’s tap-and-go and Greg O’Shea’s well-timed pass.
Ireland racked up the same amount of tries (7) and points (43) against Italy, who had lost 31-12 to the French in the first round. Mattia D’Anna’s tap tackle on Conroy foiled an early Irish break up the left wing, and O’Brien knocked on in contact soon after.
O’Donnell quickened the tempo from a tap penalty, and following a Conroy carry to the left of the posts, McNulty’s long pass bounced up for Daly to crash over in the right corner with three minutes on the clock. Dardis narrowly missed the conversion from out wide.
Ireland doubled their lead to 10-0 right from the restart as Daly burst onto the ball, carried strongly into the 22 and Italy were caught for numbers on the right where Dardis finished off. His conversion went wide to the left but he was back on target when adding the extras to Conroy’s solo effort, which saw the Tullamore man take advantage of an Italian knock-on to burn off the trailing defenders from halfway.
Conroy added his second try past the half-time hooter, evading a tackle wide on the right after being invited forward by O’Brien. Dardis converted for a 24-0 advantage, and McNulty’s well-won restart put the wheels in motion for Keenan to add an early second half score via a long, looping pass from O’Donnell.
The same two players combined in the 10th minute when O’Donnell intercepted a pass near halfway and fed Keenan to run in his second try, in the left corner. Kennedy’s fresh legs off the bench then saw him break a tackle to race over from 80 metres out with little over a minute remaining. Italy’s persistence was rewarded with a late consolation try from Federico Mori, who intercepted an O’Shea pass after Daly had threatened from his own interception just moments earlier.
France, who came to Exeter with six Under-18 players in their squad, held Ireland at bay in the Pool A decider until Keenan followed up on Horan’s initial run to break from halfway, galloping clear of Alexandre Lagarde to claim a well-taken third-minute try, converted by Dardis.
Some excellent ball retention and patient build-up play was rewarded with a second Irish try right on the half-time hooter, as Horan capitalised on an overlap to the right of the posts after O’Donnell’s half-break and Dardis’ tidying up for a crisp assist. The Ireland skipper tagged on the extras to put 14 points between the sides.
McNulty gobbled up Daly’s tap-down from the restart, immediately setting Ireland on the attack again and space was created for Conroy to cross in the right corner for try number three. The fourth arrived straight from Dardis’ restart as the batted ball from a French hand bounced loose and Daly charged onto it to ground it despite the best efforts of Marvin O’Connor.
Daly, who had a big impact off the bench, was unfortunate to lose possession in contact, Ezekiel Sedjoro using the turnover ball to break downfield and the momentum led to O’Connor scoring wide on the right with three-and-a-half minutes remaining. However, Kennedy’s pace was too much for the tiring French as he ran in Ireland’s 19th and final try of the pool stages from halfway.
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 Ireland Sevens jerseys are available to buy online here from Elverys Intersport, official sports retailer of the IRFU.
IRELAND MEN’S SEVENS Squad (2018 Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series – Round 3, Sandy Park, Exeter, Saturday, July 7-Sunday, July 8):
Robert Baloucoune (Enniskillen/Ballymena/Ulster)
Jordan Conroy (Buccaneers)
Shane Daly (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Billy Dardis (UCD) (capt)
Foster Horan (Lansdowne)
Hugo Keenan (UCD/Leinster)
Terry Kennedy (St. Mary’s College)
Alex McHenry (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Harry McNulty (UCD)
Jimmy O’Brien (UCD/Leinster)
John O’Donnell (Lansdowne)
Greg O’Shea (Shannon)
IRELAND MEN’S SEVENS RESULTS/FIXTURES – RUGBY EUROPE SEVENS GRAND PRIX SERIES: ROUND 3:
Saturday, July 7 –
Ireland 43 Sweden 0, Sandy Park, Exeter
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: John O’Donnell, Terry Kennedy 2, Foster Horan, Billy Dardis, Robert Baloucoune, Shane Daly; Cons: Billy Dardis 3, Jimmy O’Brien
Team: Harry McNulty, Foster Horan, John O’Donnell, Billy Dardis (capt), Hugo Keenan, Terry Kennedy, Jordan Conroy.
Subs: Shane Daly, Alex McHenry, Jimmy O’Brien, Greg O’Shea, Robert Baloucoune.
Ireland 43 Italy 7, Sandy Park, Exeter
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Shane Daly, Billy Dardis, Jordan Conroy 2, Hugo Keenan 2, Terry Kennedy; Cons: Billy Dardis 3, Hugo Keenan
Team: Harry McNulty, Shane Daly, John O’Donnell, Billy Dardis (capt), Hugo Keenan, Jimmy O’Brien, Jordan Conroy.
Subs: Alex McHenry, Foster Horan, Greg O’Shea, Terry Kennedy, Robert Baloucoune.
Ireland 33 France 5, Sandy Park, Exeter
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Hugo Keenan, Foster Horan, Jordan Conroy, Shane Daly, Terry Kennedy; Cons: Billy Dardis 4
Team: Harry McNulty, Foster Horan, John O’Donnell, Billy Dardis (capt), Hugo Keenan, Jimmy O’Brien, Jordan Conroy.
Subs: Shane Daly, Alex McHenry, Greg O’Shea, Terry Kennedy, Robert Baloucoune.
Sunday, July 8 –
Cup Quarter-Final: Ireland v Georgia, Sandy Park, Exeter, 11.30am
The full results, pools and fixtures are available on the Rugby Europe tournament page.