It has been a summer of serious progress for the Ireland Men’s Sevens team, and captain Billy Dardis believes their ninth place finish at the Rugby World Cup Sevens could be ‘a sign of greater things to come’.
Ireland added to their growing list of scalps by defeating three World Series core teams, Kenya (24-14), Wales (27-12) and Australia (24-14), to win the Challenge Trophy at San Francisco’s AT&T Park and finish their season on a real high.
In the Challenge final they overcame the early setback of losing speedster Jordan Conroy to a head injury – Bryan Mollen was already an absentee due to an ankle problem – as tries from Dardis, Jimmy O’Brien and replacements Terry Kennedy and Greg O’Shea delivered the goods for Stan McDowell’s charges.
Their World Cup placing of ninth, representing a huge leap forward from their seeding of 16th, comes on the back of a historic bronze medal at the London Sevens, Rugby Europe title wins in Moscow and Marcoussis and an infectious feel-good factor surrounding a squad comprising club and provincial Academy players with an average age of just 23.
The ultimate goal for the IRFU Men’s Sevens Programme, headed up by Anthony Eddy, the Director of Sevens Rugby, remains securing a prized place on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. They are already through to next April’s qualifying tournament in Hong Kong and are fiercely determined to get the job done this time having endured semi-final heartbreak against Japan at their first attempt.
“It was a hard year for us not qualifying through Hong Kong,” admitted Dardis. “It took a lot out of us, a lot of wind out of the sails. but it was nice to come back. We were able to focus, we had a few big tournaments in London and Paris and built into the World Cup through Rugby Europe as well.
“It’s been a long year (Ireland’s first tournament was in Munich back in September) but hopefully this is a sign of greater things to come. Hopefully we get back on the horse next year and qualify. But yeah, it was nice to win the Challenge Trophy here and beat three core teams. That’s the standard we want to be at.”
The 23-year-old former Leinster player had an excellent World Cup individually, leading by example with four tries and 32 points as the tournament’s joint-second top scorer. Doing so in front of the vocal Irish fans at baseball’s iconic AT&T Park made it even more special.
“It’s been pretty amazing…being able to lift the trophy in front of all the travelling support, our parents and all the supporters around San Francisco. It was a really special moment for us, we’re just delighted. We’ve been through a lot of ups and down, played a lot of tournaments, and everyone should be really proud of themselves. It was a massive effort and it’ll be nice to enjoy the off-season now.”
Some of Dardis’ team-mates also finished high up on the tournament’s overall stats tables, with Conroy notching four tries behind the leading pair of New Zealand’s Joe Ravouvou and South Africa’s Siviwe Soyizwapi (six each). The tireless Hugo Keenan was the World Cup’s most active defender with 21 tackles made, while the dynamic O’Brien had 20 carries and six offloads.