This was the performance we were waiting for. Channelling the experience and frustration of last week’s maiden HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series appearance in Dubai, Ireland Men’s Sevens produced a brilliant display to open their Cape Town Sevens campaign with a 26-21 comeback victory over Australia on Friday afternoon.
With a compelling Pool D contest hanging in the balance at 21-21, Terry Kennedy‘s injury-time try sealed a memorable win for Anthony Eddy‘s side at the Cape Town Stadium, giving Ireland an excellent platform ahead of Saturday’s games against Samoa (11.19am local time, 9.19am Irish time) and Kenya (4.47pm local time, 2.47pm Irish time).
In a topsy-turvy encounter, Ireland showed huge resolve and then composure to bounce back from the concession of an early try and strike at the death through Kennedy with Australia down to six men after Aaron O’Sullivan, John O’Donnell and captain Billy Dardis had crossed for earlier tries.
Kennedy’s 16th-minute match-winner came after Locky Miller was penalised for a dangerous tackle and when Mark Roche kicked to touch on this near side, Ireland struck off the set-piece with Kennedy opening the space for himself with a beautiful dummy before streaking clear for the line.
It was no more than Eddy’s side deserved as they used the disappointment of last week’s 12th-place finish in Dubai to refocus and their performance here was much more like it, as their defensive effort and excellent set-piece was led by Jack Kelly and Harry McNulty, while Kennedy, Dardis, Hugo Lennox and Jordan Conroy provided an edge in attack.
“We are thrilled but the main thing is we can’t get ahead of ourselves,” Dardis said afterwards. “We were pretty disappointed after last weekend as it was pretty embarrassing, to be honest. We didn’t put our best foot forward so to come out and put in a performance like that against a side that beat us last week is really encouraging.”
Ireland had to come from behind after Joe Pincus drew first blood for Australia inside the opening exchanges as his midfield linebreak and finish briefly threatened to make this a repeat of last week’s 45-21 scoreline between the sides in Dubai, but Eddy’s charges were not prepared to roll over on this occasion.
With Lewis Holland in the bin for a high tackle on Lennox, Ireland pitched tent inside the Wallabies 22 and eventually earned their reward as O’Sullivan, who made his Sevens debut in Dubai, applied the finishing touch from close range after Kelly’s carry.
Dardis’ conversion levelled the score on the stroke of half-time but the Ireland captain was then shown yellow for a late tackle in midfield, allowing Australia mount one last attack and they seized the lead as Henry Hutchinson went over for a converted score.
But Ireland’s second-half response was emphatic as substitute O’Donnell restored parity with a brilliant individual score, as he dummied at the base of a ruck and raced clear, showing good acceleration to get away from the chasing defender for Dardis to add the extra points from under the posts.
With all the momentum, Ireland then struck off the restart as Dardis got in on the act on the far side, sniping on the outside for a crucial seven-pointer to give his team the lead for the first time, and while Australia hit back at the other end through Pincus, there was still time for Kennedy’s match-winning moment.
Ireland now turn their attention to Saturday’s Pool D clashes against Samoa and Kenya.