The Ireland Men’s Sevens team topped their pool once again in the fourth and final leg of the Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series in Lodz, Poland, as they moved within touching distance of a first ever series title.
Anthony Eddy’s charges defeated Italy (19-7), Spain (17-7) and Portugal (35-12), running in eleven tries in the process, as they progressed to a Cup quarter-final against Sweden, the Pool A runners-up, who overcame both Georgia (19-14) and an experimental France side (17-7) to make the last-eight.
Depending on results later today, Ireland could need just one more win to guarantee that they will be lifting the European Series trophy at the end of day two. Terry Kennedy, who has shown a keen eye for the try-line throughout the summer, notched three tries during the successful Pool C campaign, and a total of eight different players crossed the whitewash for Ireland.
19-year-old new cap Hugo Lennox started Ireland’s opening game at out-half, making a couple of quick tackles as Italy burst out of the blocks. An Irish knock-on handed them inviting field position and following a period of good ball retention, Gabriele Leveratto stepped in off his left wing to touch down within two minutes.
Ireland’s first attack saw them slice open the Italian defence, Lennox haring over halfway following some excellent counter-rucking from Harry McNulty which forced a turnover. Jordan Conroy was brought down in the 22 but kept the move going and Bryan Mollen cleverly jinked around a couple of defenders to touch down and bring the series leaders level at seven-all.
The final two minutes of a highly competitive first half brought no further scores, before replacements John O’Donnell, Kennedy and Sean Cribbin helped to turn the screw in Ireland’s favour. Kennedy evaded a tackler just inside the Irish half and straightened to scoot clear for a classy 10th-minute try, which captain Billy Dardis was unable to convert.
Ireland retained their territorial advantage in the closing stages, winning a scrum against the head and attacking wide from a lineout. Conroy and Kennedy were well marshalled on this occasion but Italy’s defence was sucked in and good passing released McNulty for a clear run to the line. Cribbin converted just past the final hooter.
O’Donnell, Kennedy, Cribbin, Adam Leavy and Greg O’Shea were brought in as starters for the Spain match, and the latter struck for the opening try after just 80 seconds. O’Shea showed a clean pair of heels from the edge of the Spanish 22 after Robert Baloucoune’s initial turnover and O’Donnell’s well-timed pass back inside.
Cribbin converted and it was his penalty win at the breakdown which preceded Ireland’s second try in the third minute. Leavy caused problems for the Spanish defence in midfield before Kennedy dinked an ideally-weighted kick through from 30 metres out and Cribbin won the race to touch down ahead of three chasing defenders.
Leading 12-0, Ireland survived a frantic spell of Spanish pressure up to half-time, losing Baloucoune to the sin-bin but holding firm in defence thanks to McNulty forcing a penalty at ruck time. However, Spain opened the second period with a seven-pointer, using their numerical advantage to good effect as Martin Ramos’ impressive offload put Martin Ramos away.
Fresh legs off the bench, including skipper Dardis, saw Ireland wrestle back control and the increasingly influential Cribbin left-footed a pinpoint grubber towards the left corner for Mollen to dive on and extend the lead to 10 points with four minutes remaining. There were opportunities to tag on a fourth try, but Conroy was well-tackled on the left touchline and Dardis’ bouncing kick, in the dying seconds, was covered by the defence.
Portugal provided the opposition in the final round of the pool stages, and Kennedy ensured a blistering start for Ireland by scything in between two defenders to score after just 35 seconds. Dardis knocked over a tremendous conversion from near the right touchline for a 7-0 lead.
It was 14-0 midway through the first half, Leavy breaking free from the Irish 22 with two Portuguese players caught out by his acceleration. Dardis converted and also added the extras to Kennedy’s second try of the game – a sniping sixth-minute run off the back of a ruck after McNulty had made the initial incision in the defence.
Leading 21-0, Ireland began the second half down to six players after Leavy’s challenge for a restart was deemed late and earned him a yellow card. The numerical disadvantage did not matter as Cribbin and Mollen drove the men in green forward and the latter’s pass sent Conroy darting clear for the team’s fourth try, converted by Dardis.
A quick-fire brace of tries from Fabio Conceicao lifted Portugal, with the winger turning Joao Belo’s initial break into a fine long-range score and then turnover ball saw him shrug off Lennox’s attempted tackle to cut the gap to 16 points. Ireland, nonetheless, had the final say when Mollen charged forward over halfway and passed for replacement Baloucoune to evade the final defender and raid in behind the posts.
Live streaming of Ireland’s quarter-final encounter with Sweden this morning (kick-off 10.44am local time/9.44am Irish time) will be available on www.rugbyeurope.tv. The winners of Ireland v Sweden will play whoever comes through the Russia-France semi-final.
IRELAND MEN’S SEVENS Squad (2018 Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series – Round 4, Miejski Stadium, Lodz, Poland, Saturday, September 8-Sunday, September 9):
Robert Baloucoune (Enniskillen/Ballymena (dual status)/Ulster)
Sean Cribbin (Suttonians/Old Belvedere (dual status))
Jordan Conroy (Buccaneers)
Billy Dardis (Terenure College) (capt)
Foster Horan (Lansdowne)
Terry Kennedy (St. Mary’s College)
Adam Leavy (Lansdowne)
Hugo Lennox (Skerries) *
Harry McNulty (UCD)
Bryan Mollen (Blackrock College)
John O’Donnell (Lansdowne)
Greg O’Shea (Shannon)
* Denotes uncapped player
IRELAND MEN’S SEVENS RESULTS/FIXTURES – RUGBY EUROPE SEVENS GRAND PRIX SERIES: ROUND 4:
Saturday, September 8 –
Ireland 19 Italy 7, Miejski Stadium, Lodz
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Bryan Mollen, Terry Kennedy, Harry McNulty; Cons: Billy Dardis, Sean Cribbin
Team: Harry McNulty, Foster Horan, Bryan Mollen, Billy Dardis (capt), Hugo Lennox, Robert Baloucoune, Jordan Conroy.
Subs: Sean Cribbin, Terry Kennedy, Adam Leavy, John O’Donnell, Greg O’Shea.
Ireland 17 Spain 7, Miejski Stadium, Lodz
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Greg O’Shea, Sean Cribbin, Bryan Mollen; Con: Sean Cribbin
Team: Harry McNulty, Adam Leavy, John O’Donnell, Greg O’Shea, Sean Cribbin, Terry Kennedy, Robert Baloucoune.
Subs: Foster Horan, Bryan Mollen, Hugo Lennox, Billy Dardis (capt), Jordan Conroy.
Ireland 35 Portugal 12, Miejski Stadium, Lodz
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Terry Kennedy 2, Adam Leavy, Jordan Conroy, Robert Baloucoune; Cons: Billy Dardis 4, Hugo Lennox
Team: Harry McNulty, Adam Leavy, John O’Donnell, Billy Dardis (capt), Sean Cribbin, Terry Kennedy, Jordan Conroy.
Subs: Foster Horan, Bryan Mollen, Hugo Lennox, Greg O’Shea, Robert Baloucoune.
Sunday, September 9 –
Cup Quarter-Final: Ireland v Sweden, Miejski Stadium, Lodz, 10.44am local time/9.44am Irish time
The full results, fixtures and pool standings are available on the Rugby Europe tournament page.