The Ireland Men’s Sevens team were pipped by Argentina for the inaugural RugbyX title as the new five-player format of the game made an exciting debut at the O2 Arena in London.
Both the Ireland Men’s and Women’s sides competed in the first-ever RugbyX international tournament – finishing second and fourth respectively – with coaches Anthony Eddy and Stan McDowell and the players really embracing the experience.
Eddy’s men won three games on the trot at the indoor venue, including a couple of last-gasp defeats of the Barbarians and USA, before losing the final 25-15 to the free-scoring Argentinians. Ireland tallied up 19 tries in all, with five from top scorer Cormac Izuchukwu.
Captained by Katie Fitzhenry, the Ireland Women were also ultra competitive with seven tries scored across their two matches. They lost out 30-15 to their American counterparts and were beaten 35-20 by France in the 3rd-4th place play-off.
The afternoon and evening sessions provided top class opposition for both squads in advance of the combined Dubai leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series on December 5-7. The Ireland men are gearing up for their first outing as a World Series core team.
A quality-laden Barbarians side fell 25-20 to Ireland in the opening round of men’s matches. Tries from Jack Daly, who scored from an excellent Harry McNulty pass, Izuchukwu (2), Greg O’Shea and Terry Kennedy secured a momentum-building victory.
They stepped it up for their second game, running out impressive 30-10 winners over England to finish top of Group A. Izuchukwu and Leinster Academy youngster Aaron O’Sullivan bagged well-taken braces, with Mark Roche and Sean Cribbin also touching down.
Advancing straight to the semi-final stage, Eddy’s charges battled it out with the USA for a place in the decider. The US hesitated, expecting a knock-on to be whistled up, but Kennedy played on and darted through successfully for the opening try.
Cribbin snapped up the second score, using a neat sidestep to scamper over in the right corner after an O’Shea tackle had forced the ball loose. The US fell 15-0 behind when Irish defensive pressure earned a five-metre scrum and O’Shea broke from it to reach over in the corner.
A couple of crisp finishes out wide by Perry Baker brought it back to a one-try game, and after an O’Shea’s try-scoring pass narrowly evaded Izuchukwu, Ireland regrouped quickly to hound the US into handling errors of their own.
O’Shea broke from midfield and possession twice went backwards from American hands before captain Billy Dardis gleefully picked it up and plunged over to make it 20-10. Nonetheless, back-to-back tries from Carlin Isles and Danny Barrett set up a grandstand finish.
Holding possession near their own try-line in the final play, Ireland did really well to work it wide to Izuchuwku and the tall 19-year-old brilliantly beat the covering Maceo Brown to run in a memorable match winner which earned him one of the biggest cheers of the night.
Giving his reaction after the game, Izuchukwu said: “I’m just happy to be here. (RugbyX) suits me, I don’t know how but it does! I was watching the clock and hoping there wouldn’t be a one-v-one because it would have been a nightmare!
“The boys worked hard, they got it wide and I managed to get outside. I can see Terry Kennedy inside me, he has unbelievable feet, he’s really quick. I knew he’d bounce it outside so I held my ground, we train it hard. They got it to me and I was happy to get in.
“We did a small bit of preparation (for RugbyX), it was a bit of a turn-up. We’ve done a few walk-throughs in training. It wasn’t too serious. But we’re happy to be here, the atmosphere is amazing. The surface is perfect, the ball’s moving quick – I’m happy, I can’t complain!”
A strong start was key to Argentina getting the better of Ireland in the final. Their skipper Lautaro Bazan Velez threw a dummy and ghosted through for an early try, but Kennedy hit back in superb fashion with the leveller straight from a scrum close to the Irish line.
Daly’s excellent tackle held up Fernando Luna past the try-line, only for the pacy Rodrigo Etchart to snipe over from the resulting scrum. Geronimo Prisciantelli followed up to make it 15-5, avoiding Hugo Lennox’s attempted tackle on his way to the whitewash.
Released by Kennedy, O’Shea then accelerated through a gap from just inside the Irish half to claw back five points, and Kennedy was prominent in the build-up to the equalising score. In the end, it was Adam Leavy who sent Cribbin over in the left corner.
It was all to play for with just over three minutes remaining, but los Pumas’ combination of pace and power stretched Ireland enough for Francisco Ulloa to reclaim the lead. Leavy’s last-ditch tackle was unable to deny Luna a last-minute clincher in the right corner.
Still pleased with the runners-up finish and the team’s performances in London, Dardis commented: “It was a very physical final. It just slipped away from us, we were kinda hanging in there, and then with two minutes to go, they pulled away.
“Argentina deserved it in the end, but it was a great day. We really enjoyed it. We came in, we were a bit apprehensive. We thought this was going to be full-on gladiator stuff! No, it was great fun and we really enjoyed it. Hopefully there’s more of these tournaments.
“It’s been brilliant, the whole atmosphere, the crowd have been great. It’s just been a real thrill. Really exciting, we’ve enjoyed the two or three days. We can’t thank the organisers enough, it’s been really great.”
Meanwhile, the Ireland Women opened the tournament with a double-scores loss to an experienced USA outfit. Ireland’s 15 points came from tries from Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird, who backed herself from a close-in ruck and wrestled her way over, Fitzhenry and Kathy Baker.
France were next up in the play-off for bronze, and answering back to two early Ian Jason tries, regular skipper Lucy Mulhall broke cleverly from a ruck on the left wing and fed Eve Higgins who shrugged off the final defender to dive over.
However, the French showed their class with a run of three successive tries, including a quick-fire double in the corner from Seraphine Okemba. Megan Burns ran onto her own well-weighted kick through for a rallying try at 25-10.
Julie Annery profited from Mathilde Coutouly’s silky skills to complete her brace, before Higgins picked up from a ruck seven metres out to score after direct running from Nic a Bhaird and Baker had set up the chance.
The Irish defence was worn down for Camille Grassineau to make it a four-try gap again, and it was three by the finish (35-20) as Mulhall’s slick sidestep and burst of pace took her clear up the left hand side.
Captain Fitzhenry said afterwards: “It was a really fast-paced game. France really put it up to us, really came hard at us, and to be honest, our one-on-one tackling probably wasn’t there today.
“We were actually really happy with the earlier (game against the USA performance-wise). We haven’t really done a whole lot of RugbyX over the last while.
“We were really happy with how the girls came out and kept fighting for every minute and we never game up – that’s what this team is all about. This arena is absolutely amazing – the atmosphere, the lights, the music – the crowd really got behind us.
“When you get out there and play it (RugbyX), it’s so much fun, it’s so much craic. Just the intensity and the conditioning element of it is really high, so it’s a really great game. As a forward, I’d probably like a scrum every now and again!”
IRELAND MEN’S SEVENS Squad (2019 RugbyX Tournament, O2 Arena, London):
Aaron O’Sullivan (Blackrock College/Leinster)
Adam Leavy (Lansdowne)
Billy Dardis (Terenure College) (capt)
Cormac Izuchukwu (Old Wesley)
Greg O’Shea (Shannon)
Harry McNulty (UCD)
Hugo Lennox (Clontarf)
Mark Roche (Lansdowne)
Terry Kennedy (St. Mary’s College)
Max O’Reilly (Dublin University/Leinster)
Sean Cribbin (Old Belvedere)
Jack Daly (Garryowen/Munster)
MEN’S RESULTS –
England 30 Barbarians 30 (Barbarians won 3-2 in the one-on-one shootout)
IRELAND 25 Barbarians 20
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Jack Daly, Cormac Izuchukwu 2, Greg O’Shea, Terry Kennedy
Team: Cormac Izuchukwu, Adam Leavy, Hugo Lennox, Sean Cribbin, Terry Kennedy.
Rolling Subs: Aaron O’Sullivan, Billy Dardis (capt), Greg O’Shea, Harry McNulty, Mark Roche, Max O’Reilly, Jack Daly.
England 10 IRELAND 30
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Cormac Izuchuwku 2, Mark Roche, Sean Cribbin, Aaron O’Sullivan 2
Team: Harry McNulty, Jack Daly, Mark Roche, Greg O’Shea, Aaron O’Sullivan.
Rolling Subs: Cormac Izuchukwu, Adam Leavy, Hugo Lennox, Sean Cribbin, Terry Kennedy, Billy Dardis (capt), Max O’Reilly.
Argentina 40 USA 20
USA 15 France 25
France 25 Argentina 20
Barbarians 15 USA 35
Argentina 55 England 15
IRELAND 25 USA 20
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Terry Kennedy, Sean Cribbin, Greg O’Shea, Billy Dardis, Cormac Izuchukwu
Team: Cormac Izuchukwu, Aaron O’Sullivan, Greg O’Shea, Hugo Lennox, Terry Kennedy.
Rolling Subs: Jack Daly, Mark Roche, Adam Leavy, Harry McNulty, Billy Dardis (capt), Sean Cribbin, Max O’Reilly.
France 20 Argentina 25
IRELAND 15 Argentina 25
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Terry Kennedy, Greg O’Shea, Sean Cribbin
Team: Jack Daly, Harry McNulty, Aaron O’Sullivan, Sean Cribbin, Terry Kennedy.
Rolling Subs: Billy Dardis (capt), Mark Roche, Adam Leavy, Cormac Izuchukwu, Greg O’Shea, Hugo Lennox, Max O’Reilly.
IRELAND WOMEN’S SEVENS Squad (2019 RugbyX Tournament, O2 Arena, London):
Claire Boles (Railway Union/Ulster)
Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird (Old Belvedere/Munster)
Eve Higgins (Railway Union/Leinster)
Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
Kathy Baker (Blackrock/Leinster)
Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock/Leinster) (capt)
Katie Heffernan (Mullingar/Railway Union/Leinster)
Lucy Mulhall (Rathdrum)
Louise Galvin (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Lucinda Kinghan (DCU/Ulster)
Megan Burns (Tullamore/Leinster)
Stephanie Carroll (Railway Union/Munster)
WOMEN’S RESULTS –
England 35 France 20
IRELAND 15 USA 30
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird, Katie Fitzhenry, Kathy Baker
Team: Katie Fitzhenry (capt), Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird, Lucinda Kinghan, Katie Heffernan, Hannah Tyrrell.
Rolling Subs: Claire Boles, Eve Higgins, Kathy Baker, Lucy Mulhall, Louise Galvin, Megan Burns, Stephanie Carroll.
3rd-4th Place Play-Off:
France 35 IRELAND 20
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Eve Higgins 2, Megan Burns, Lucy Mulhall
Team: Katie Fitzhenry (capt), Claire Boles, Kathy Baker, Megan Burns, Eve Higgins.
Rolling Subs: Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird, Lucy Mulhall, Lucinda Kinghan, Louise Galvin, Katie Heffernan, Hannah Tyrrell, Stephanie Carroll.
England 20 USA 20 (England won 3-2 in the one-on-one shootout)