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Eddy Readies Ireland Sevens Squads For World Cup Challenge

Eddy Readies Ireland Sevens Squads For World Cup Challenge

As the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco come sharply into focus, Anthony Eddy, the IRFU’s Director of Women’s and Sevens Rugby, believes the Sevens code is continuing to grow and gain popularity in Ireland.

Since assuming his current role with the Union in early 2015, Anthony Eddy has helped to shift the culture surrounding Sevens in Ireland, and with both the Men’s and Women’s teams competing at the Rugby World Cup Sevens next week, there is cause for optimism as the IRFU Sevens Programme moves forward in the coming months and years.

Yet, despite acknowledging the achievements of both sides at European and world levels, as well the Ireland U-18 Women’s Home Nations Sevens success last weekend, Eddy also stressed that further development of the game is required.

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“I think on the back of what the girls have done in recent times, and what the boys have done in the more recent period, the game’s in a pretty good position,” admitted the Australian, speaking at Monday’s announcement of the World Cup squads in Intersport Elverys on Dublin’s Henry Street.

“We still have to grow the game, domestically, to have a greater playing pool. But in the boys’ game we have a ready-made group of talented players. The U-18 girls won a Home Nations tournament in Edinburgh, so the development programmes are in a good position. We just have to continue to grow the numbers.”

As well as the continuing achievements of the elite Ireland men and women, the IRFU are ensuring that the domestic Sevens calendar is becoming busier and busier with each passing season. The Universities Super Sevens Programme, which was announced in March, is the latest initiative from the Union to grow the Sevens player and coach platform.

It comes on top of the fiercely-competitive IRFU Schools and Emerging Schools Sevens tournaments, the Girls X7s, and the Dublin 7s Festival, which is making its mark alongside the other popular and long-established club-hosted competitions like the Kinsale, Carrick, Midland Midnight and Marble City Sevens.

As evidence of the burgeoning talent coming through, the Ireland Under-18 Men’s team were European Sevens champions in both 2016 and 2017 and runners-up this year, while their female counterparts made history this season as UK School Games champions and bronze medal winners at the European Championship. Eve Higgins and Kathy Baker are the latest players to progress from that successful U-18 pathway, with both making their World Series bows in 2017/18 and earning World Cup squad places.

The Ireland Women’s squad, who defeated Canada and Russia for the first time this season, will be led by Wicklow native Lucy Mulhall. They get their World Cup campaign up and running with a round of 16 encounter against England on Friday week at San Francisco’s iconic AT&T Park (kick-off 12.12pm local time/8.12pm Irish time) (live on eir Sport 1/www.worldrugby.org live streaming in certain countries/highlights on ITV 4).

This will be their second appearance at the World Cup, following their previous top-eight showing in Moscow five years ago when current 15s star Claire Molloy was captain. The Ireland Men’s Sevens side, who famously achieved a third-place finish at the inaugural World Cup Sevens at Murrayfield in 1993, will be competing in the tournament for the first time since 2009.

Billy Dardis and his team-mates face Chile in a pre-round of 16 fixture on the same day as the Women’s team (kick-off 3.35pm local time/11.35pm Irish time) (live on eir Sport 1/www.worldrugby.org live streaming in certain countries/highlights on ITV 4) for the right to face South Africa, the recent World Series champions, in the next phase.

While confidence is high within both Ireland camps, a switch to a knock-out format for the 2018 World Cup leaves them with very little room for error. Speaking about the change from pool stages to a straight knock-out style, Eddy said: “I think it probably makes it harder, because you can always have one poor game. The way Sevens is, sometimes it could be a bounce of a ball or a restart that can actually win or lose you a game.

“You’ve just got to make sure that you’re red hot for every single game that you play and very accurate with your execution. Both teams will go there with the aspirations and the ambitions to be extremely successful, but sometimes Sevens can be a really cruel game as well, so we’re realistic about our chances.”

Unlike the Men’s team, which primarily consists of Ulster Bank League and provincial Academy players, the 12-strong Women’s outfit has a substantial crossover with the Ireland 15s squad.

After featuring in the recent Women’s Six Nations for the latter, Ashleigh Baxter, Hannah Tyrrell, Katie Fitzhenry and Louise Galvin will make the trip to the west coast of America. The quartet were unavailable for the opening rounds of Ireland’s Championship run because of Sevens duties, before returning to the fold under 15s head coach Adam Griggs, who is now part of the IRFU High Performance Unit Women’s Programme.

Asked about increasing the playing numbers across both 15s and Sevens so Ireland can continue to compete to the highest possible standard in both codes, Eddy commented: “We’re not like most countries. We don’t have a huge playing pool at the moment, so we’re still looking to develop the numbers. I think Sevens is a great introduction to the game, but we’ll always continue to have players playing 15s and Sevens.

“We’ll always have players just playing 15s and we’ll always have players just playing Sevens, but we’re not focused on either 15s or Sevens. We’re just focused on the game of Women’s rugby and trying to develop the numbers.”

The Ireland Men’s squad have enjoyed an encouraging build-up to the Rugby World Cup Sevens, with a brilliant bronze medal finish at the recent London leg of the World Series proving to be a particular highlight. They also lead the Rugby Europe Grand Prix Series standings by 10 points ahead of September’s final tournament in Poland.

Given the platform a World Cup can provide, Eddy expects this to stand his charges in good stead. “It’s massively important, the players recognise how important it is too. Outside of the Olympics, the Sevens World Cup is the major event,” he added. “They’ve done exceptionally well to qualify, and done exceptionally well in recent tournaments to prove that they’re worthy competitors in any competition. They’re looking forward to the challenge.”

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.