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Sevens Olympic Breakthrough Massive for Irish Rugby – Nucifora

Sevens Olympic Breakthrough Massive for Irish Rugby – Nucifora

The Ireland 7s team and staff celebrate qualifying for Tokyo 2020

IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora has been a driving force behind the 7s programme since joining the IRFU in mid 2014.

The qualification of the men’s team for the Olympics in Tokyo means so much to those invested in the programme but it also has massive potential to expose a generation to the game of 7s and to be used as a tool to give young people access to the game of rugby.

Speaking to IrishRugby.ie after Ireland’s 28-19 victory over France in the final of the Olympic Repechage tournament in Monaco Nucifora said,

“It was an enormous day for the team, for all the people who have contributed to this team to be able to do what they did in Monaco.  There are people here over the last five years that have put in an enormous amount of effort and there were people who weren’t able to be here and contributed enormous amounts. I think it is massive for Irish rugby, I think it is massive for Irish sport.”

Nucifora took a moment to reflect on the journey from the programme being rebooted in 2015 and every up and down along the way before Harry McNulty’s try put the game beyond France and secured Olympic qualification.

The Men’s 7s squad that won promotion from Rugby Europe Division C back in 2015. Mark Roche and Harry McNulty were part of the squad that qualified for the Olympics on Sunday.

“There are a couple of guys in the team who were there from day one.  We started in the bottom division of Europe and we worked our way through.  We got ourselves onto the World Series and now the team has achieved the right to go to the Olympics.  So in a very short space of time I think it’s proven what can be done when people work together to achieve something,” said Nucifora

The 7s programme, while competing on the World Series and striving for Olympic qualification, has also provided an avenue for players to develop and then excel in the 15s game.  Hugo Keenan, Adam Byrne, Will Connors and Shane Daly have already been capped at senior level for Ireland with Robert Baloucoune, Tom Daly and Nick Timoney named in Andy Farrell’s squad for the Vodafone Summer Series in July.

Other former graduates are forging impressive provincial careers such as Alex Wotton (Connacht & Munster),Dan Goggin (Munster) and Jimmy O’Brien (Leinster).

“I think it’s been well documented the players that have come through and now played for Ireland at the highest level in 15s and that’s been fantastic to be able to use sevens as a vehicle to do that.  But what I think what the achievement in Monaco proved that this is a programme in its own right where people can choose to play sevens rugby and do something that not many people get a chance to do and that’s represent their country at an Olympics,” said Nucifora.  

Italy vs Ireland – Ireland’s Hugo Keenan makes a break – Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Nucifora is keenly aware that this is a watershed moment for Irish rugby and for the shortened version of the game.   Sevens will now legitimately be viewed as an Olympic pathway and this could in turn attract young athletes to the game of rugby.  There is a huge opportunity here to be embraced and utilise sevens to facilitate access to the game.

“I think off the back off the weekend’s success one of the things that people will look back on in many years to come is what effect it had, and what effect it will have when young kids see these boys play in the Olympics in a few weeks’ time and decide to choose rugby sevens as a pathway for them.

“What we would like to see is that Sevens is used around Ireland to be able to give young people more access to the game of rugby that may not necessarily have it otherwise and I think you’ll see the growth of this game as an avenue either just into rugby and the choice of playing 15s or Sevens or maybe young boys and young girls will choose just to play Sevens rugby and off the back of the success of this group I think they have laid the foundations for many years to come.”