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Dardis Expects ‘Big Challenge’ From Chile In Sevens World Cup Opener

Dardis Expects ‘Big Challenge’ From Chile In Sevens World Cup Opener

Captaining your country at a World Cup can be a daunting task at the very best of times, but for Naas native Billy Dardis, it is something that he is prepared to embrace with open arms.

When Ireland take on Chile at AT&T Park later today in a pre-round of 16 fixture at the Rugby World Cup Sevens (kick-off 3.35pm local time/11.35pm Irish time) (live on eir Sport 1/live streaming on www.worldrugby.org in certain countries/highlights on ITV 4), it is the former Leinster Academy back who will lead Stan McDowell’s charges into battle.

Despite having previous experience in the role at schools level with Newbridge College and Terenure College, Billy Dardis had never captained an Ireland side at any grade, and while he does not consider himself to be the most vocal of players, his desire to lead by example has certainly helped him along the way.

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“I captained Junior Cup (Newbridge) and Senior Cup (Terenure) teams a little bit. In terms of representative honours, it was the first captaincy I got. I was really nervous before I got told. Obviously when I got told, it was unreal,” explained Dardis, speaking at last week’s Ireland World Cup squad announcement on the Henry Street store of team sponsors, Intersport Elverys.

“I was delighted with it. It’s just a nice honour to have. Since then, it has just been about how I can do it to my best and lead the lads to the best of my ability. One of my things would be just the unseen things. I’m not the biggest person in the world, I’m not the biggest, loudest person. Just little things would be kind of my thing. Going into a World Cup is, I suppose, really special.”

As the Ireland men have risen up the European and global rankings, a strong spine of players and depth has been established in the IRFU Men’s Sevens Programme. But nobody is getting too comfortable in camp as competition for places, including Dardis’ out-half position, has been fierce.

“This year we’ve had a core group (of players). It has been about 12 or 15 of us that have trained throughout the whole year and gone to a lot of the tournaments (across the season). We’ve had a good few lads come in, have a shot at it.

“They might not have gone well, but other lads have come in and made a big impact and they’ve stayed part of it. There is a core group, but it’s kinda changing the whole time.”

After he was released by Leinster last summer without a senior appearance to his name, the then 22-year-old was at something of a crossroads in his career. Although he had a number of options available to him, his previous exposure to Sevens made it a ‘no-brainer’ for Dardis to get involved in the code on a more permanent basis.

He explained: “The IRFU have always been good to me and I’ve been part of loads of 18s, 19s, 20s set-ups and I knew a lot of people and spoke to a lot of people. They gave me good advice and they were just like, ‘yeah, go for it.’

“I’d spent four years in the (Leinster) Academy, hadn’t got a cap. I was kind of banging my head against the wall and I was like, ‘I need something to refresh my mind’. They (the Ireland Sevens coaches) put forward to us what the plan was for the season. It was all these different trips and all these different tournaments. The potential to push on into a World Series was just really exciting.”

Indeed, despite his ambitions to one day return to 15s on a professional basis (he continues to ply his trade at Ulster Bank League level with UCD), his sole focus is on establishing Ireland as a top-tier nation on the World Sevens circuit.

“In my head, I’m still an 18-year-old kid and my dream is to play for Ireland, obviously. Whether this is a stepping stone or what I do for the next five, ten years, I don’t really know yet. At the moment it is what I’m focusing on,” he continued.

“There’s no point in trying to half-ass a few different things. You’re better off just focusing on one thing. If I get an offer, I’d consider it, but at the moment (Sevens) is what I’m focusing on.”

Should Ireland get the better of Chile, they will then advance to face World Series champions South Africa in a a round of 16 clash in the home of the San Francisco Giants. However, as he recalls the meeting of the two sides at last year’s Oktoberfest, he agrees that the South Americans are not to be taken for granted.

“It was a tough game, we played them third game on a Saturday evening. It was just intense. They’ve a few big ball carriers and a lot of pace as well. Little small speedy fellas, but they’ve changed a lot since then. We saw them playing in the South American 7s, when we went down to Chile and Uruguay in January. They did very well down there.

“They were unlucky to miss out on the top spot. They’re a good side. We won’t be able to look past them at all. Some people are saying, ‘you’ll get a shot at playing whoever after them’, but I think we’ll just have to focus on that. They’re going to be a big challenge.”

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 World Cup Sevens, AT&T Park, San Francisco, USA, Friday, July 20-Sunday, July 22):

Robert Baloucoune (Enniskillen/Ballymena/Ulster)
Jordan Conroy (Buccaneers)
Shane Daly (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Billy Dardis (UCD) (capt)
Ian Fitzpatrick (Lansdowne)
Foster Horan (Lansdowne)
Hugo Keenan (UCD/Leinster)
Terry Kennedy (St. Mary’s College)
Harry McNulty (UCD)
Bryan Mollen (Dublin University)
Jimmy O’Brien (UCD/Leinster)
John O’Donnell (Lansdowne)
Greg O’Shea (Shannon)

IRELAND MEN’S RWC SEVENS Fixtures –

Friday, July 20:

Pre-Round of 16: Ireland v Chile, AT&T Park, San Francisco, 3.35pm local time/11.35pm Irish time

Saturday, July 21:

Quarter-Finals

Sunday, July 22:

Finals

More details on the Rugby World Cup Sevens are available here. Tickets are available to purchase here via the tournament website. There are single-day tickets in all seating categories and three-day tickets.