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Hong Kong Berth Secured As Ireland Finish Third In Exeter

Hong Kong Berth Secured As Ireland Finish Third In Exeter

The Ireland Men’s Sevens team were bronze medal winners at the Exeter leg of the Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series, sealing their place at next year’s Hong Kong World Series qualifier with one tournament still to go.

Ireland are now guaranteed to finish as one of the top three non-core teams at the end of Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series. They picked up 16 points for their third-place finish in Exeter, with their only defeat coming against eventual champions England (31-19) at the semi-final stage, sandwiched between wins over Georgia (22-12) and Portugal (29-7).

Anthony Eddy’s men (56 points) have opened up a 10-point lead at the top of the series standings, with England (46), Russia (44) and Germany (42) leading the chasing pack. They have the European title to aim for in the final leg in Lodz, Poland (September 8-9), but it is mission accomplished in terms of booking a return trip to Hong Kong.

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Ireland’s first appearance at the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series qualifying tournament three months ago ended in a heartbreaking semi-final exit to Japan, who went on to earn core team status as Hong Kong champions. Eddy’s side will have another shot at World Series qualification next April as the next highest-ranked non-core side in the European series, Portugal (32 points), cannot catch them.

The Moscow and Marcoussis 7s champions missed out on a third successive Grand Prix trophy as an experienced England outfit came to the fore on day two at Sandy Park. However, there were still plenty of positives to take from the weekend in terms of preparing the squad for the Rugby World Cup Sevens in two weeks’ time.

Ireland, who emerged with a clean bill of health, led the way in terms of tries scored (31) and conceded (10), with Terry Kennedy notching seven as the tournament’s top try scorer. Adding to his nine tries from Moscow, the 22-year-old Dubliner has a very impressive strike-rate.

Captain Billy Dardis, who is also hitting excellent form as San Francisco approaches, played a central role in Ireland’s strong start against quarter-final opponents Georgia. His initial break up towards the 22 and clever switch of play out to the right gave Shane Daly the chance to send the supporting Kennedy over for an opening unconverted try.

Dardis made it 10-0 in the third minute, slipping out of a midfield tackle and scampering clear after Daly’s physicality had caused problems for the Georgians from the restart. However, a deliberate knock-on soon saw Dardis sin-binned and Zurabi Dzneladze’s well-taken try, following a close-in ruck, cut the gap to three points for half-time.

The Pool A winners’ task grew more difficult after Ilia Spanderashvili stepped away from John O’Donnell for an early second half try out of nothing. The men in green regrouped and showed the necessary urgency, with Harry McNulty and Dardis getting them on the front foot again. Kennedy’s neat footwork and inviting pass put Hugo Keenan speeding in between two defenders for a crucial five-pointer.

Kennedy then sealed his team’s progress through to the last-four with his second try of the game, rewarding their stranglehold of possession late on. Replacement Jimmy O’Brien and Jordan Conroy both went close before McNulty’s hard work at the breakdown set up the St. Mary’s College clubman for a straightforward finish in the left corner. Dardis’ well-struck conversion made it a 10-point winning margin.

The semi-final showdown between Ireland and England was a high-quality contest from start to finish. First blood went to the Irish side whose slick distribution paved the way for Daly to run at Dan Norton and hand off Will Edwards on the inside to score a second-minute opener, converted by Dardis.

O’Donnell was fortunate to avoid yellow for a knock-on, and Norton’s electric pace soon lit up the English attack. Conroy’s ankle tap thwarted him before the Irish defence was eventually worn down and Alex Davis’ pass over the top put Phil Burgess over in the right corner. Tom Mitchell drew the conversion wide at 7-5.

England’s World Series nous helped them edge ahead past the half-time hooter, with Ireland paying the price for an overthrown lineout from Dardis. The tournament hosts made it up to halfway and speedster Norton, who got away with holding a couple of players in at the previous ruck, was released by replacement James Rodwell to touch down.

Trailing 12-7, Ireland wasted little time in responding once the second period got underway. Dardis’ sparkling break through the middle had England scrambling and his team-mates worked possession wide to the left where McNulty set up O’Donnell to score from eight metres out. Dardis’ conversion faded narrowly wide.

Crucially, an Irish handling error allowed England to nip into a 17-12 lead. After McNulty’s attempted return pass to Dardis went to ground, Richard de Carpentier sent Mitchell scurrying deep into the Irish half and his long pass put Norton over to the left of the posts. Had McNulty’s pass gone to hand, Ireland had a two-on-one overlap to exploit.

The momentum was with England now and they settled the issue with a well-executed maul try from Ruaridh McConnochie and a Burgess effort straight from the restart. The Irish bench upped the tempo for the final play following an English offside and further penalty, and Robert Baloucoune weaved in behind the posts for a consolation seven-pointer.

The Bronze final against Portugal burst into life with Baloucoune’s surging break from deep, yet Conroy was unable to hold onto the Ulster youngster’s offload. Portugal quickly showed their class on the counter, Tiago Fernandes evading the clutches of both Conroy and McNulty on a 80-metre gallop to the whitewash.

Ireland hit back right from the restart which was taken down by Daly. O’Donnell popped up in midfield, breaking in between two defenders to hare over halfway and outpace the covering Jorge Abecassis on the outside for a terrific individual try. Dardis hit the post with the right-sided conversion.

O’Brien stepped inside a couple of defenders to put Ireland in front at 10-7, with the attack sparked by McNulty’s tap-down of the restart, and they had the final say of the first half with a Conroy score. The Buccaneers flyer finished off some fine work by Baloucoune who brilliantly stayed on his feet to supply the scoring pass.

Greg O’Shea, Keenan and Kennedy were all brought on to build on the 17-7 interval advantage, and O’Shea broke a tackle and offloaded for Kennedy to cross midway through the second half. Keenan converted with Dardis already replaced, and Baloucoune wrapped up the scoring with a minute left, scooting over from the left wing after Kennedy had drawn in a defender to create the space.

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.

Follow the Ireland Women’s and Men’s Sevens sides this season in our exclusive behind-the-scenes series – On The Road with the Ireland 7s.

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 – RUGBY EUROPE SEVENS GRAND PRIX SERIES: ROUND 3:

Saturday, July 7 –

Pool A:

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

FULL VIDEO REPLAY – POOL A: IRELAND 43 SWEDEN 0 (09:02-31:57) by Rugby Europe

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

FULL VIDEO REPLAY – POOL A: IRELAND 43 ITALY 7 (03:31-26:02) by Rugby Europe

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

FULL VIDEO REPLAY – POOL A: IRELAND 33 FRANCE 5 (03:47-25:34) by Rugby Europe

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.

Day 1 Round-Up – Ireland Advance As Top Seeds From Exeter Pool Stages

Sunday, July 8 –

Cup Quarter-Final: Ireland 22 Georgia 12, Sandy Park, Exeter
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Terry Kennedy 2, Billy Dardis, Hugo Keenan; Con: Billy Dardis

FULL VIDEO REPLAY – CUP QUARTER-FINAL: IRELAND 22 GEORGIA 12 (07:50-29:40) by Rugby Europe

Team: Harry McNulty, Shane Daly, John O’Donnell, Billy Dardis (capt), Hugo Keenan, Terry Kennedy, Jordan Conroy.

Subs: Alex McHenry, Foster Horan, Jimmy O’Brien, Greg O’Shea, Robert Baloucoune.

Cup Semi-Final: Ireland 19 England 31, Sandy Park, Exeter
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Shane Daly, John O’Donnell, Robert Baloucoune; Cons: Billy Dardis 2

FULL VIDEO REPLAY – CUP SEMI-FINAL: IRELAND 19 ENGLAND 31 (45:45-1:08:03) by Rugby Europe

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.

Bronze Final: Ireland 29 Portugal 7, Sandy Park, Exeter
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: John O’Donnell, Jimmy O’Brien, Jordan Conroy, Terry Kennedy, Robert Baloucoune; Cons: Billy Dardis, Hugo Keenan

FULL VIDEO REPLAY – BRONZE FINAL: IRELAND 29 PORTUGAL 7 (45:31-1:07:16) by Rugby Europe

Team: Harry McNulty, Shane Daly, John O’Donnell, Billy Dardis (capt), Jimmy O’Brien, Robert Baloucoune, Jordan Conroy.

Subs: Alex McHenry, Foster Horan, Hugo Keenan, Greg O’Shea, Terry Kennedy.

The full results, pools and final placings are available on the Rugby Europe tournament page.