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‘It’s Great For Ireland’ – Olympics Qualification Eddy’s Proudest Moment

‘It’s Great For Ireland’ – Olympics Qualification Eddy’s Proudest Moment

‘It’s Great For Ireland’ – Olympics Qualification Eddy’s Proudest Moment

Anthony Eddy celebrates with Ian Fitzpatrick in Monaco. ©INPHO/Manuel Blondeau

Anthony Eddy has said that qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics in Monaco on Sunday is the proudest moment he has experienced as the IRFU Director of Sevens and Women’s Rugby.

First appointed to the position in December 2014, the Australian has overseen a dramatic growth in the Sevens game on these shores. Having started out in Division C of Rugby Europe in 2015, Ireland became a core nation on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series circuit just four years later.

Ireland Men’s Sevens competed at the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco, coming away with the Challenge Trophy and a respectable ninth-place finish – despite being ranked 16th heading into the tournament. Yet, winning the World Rugby Repechage in Monaco (and thus booking that precious ticket for the Japanese capital next month) tops it all for Eddy.

“What makes you so proud is probably the achievement today [Sunday]. To have an Irish team being represented at the Olympic Games I think is fantastic. It’s not just good for the players and the programme. It’s great for Irish rugby and it’s great for Ireland, to be honest,” Eddy remarked in the aftermath of their success on Sunday.

“I’m delighted for them. Both the men’s and the women’s programmes have committed so much over the last six years and to have the men’s programme in Tokyo is an outstanding achievement. The boys should be really pleased with themselves.”

Following pool stage wins against Zimbabwe, Mexico and Tonga on Saturday, Ireland also had the measure of Samoa the following day. This set up a semi-final date with Hong Kong and they came through this test with flying colours (28-5 the final score).

It was always likely that France would be the team they had to get past in order to achieve their Olympic dream and a magnificent 28-19 victory ensured the final spot in Tokyo was theirs. Although the French were highly-rated, Eddy never doubted his squad’s ability to pull off the result they so badly craved.

“I think we always came here knowing that the boys were well capable of achieving what they’ve achieved in the last game, but obviously you’ve got to get through another five games to get to where we got to in the final. They’re all different challenges, but the whole team, everybody fronted up exceptionally well on day two and did what they had to do.

“I’ve been here now six years and they’ve worked tirelessly to get to where they are as of tonight and going to the Olympics in four weeks’ time is an outstanding achievement for them. Well deserved.”

It wasn’t all plain sailing, however, and France appeared to hold the aces when they led 12-7 at half-time in the tournament decider. Jordan Conroy’s superb brace of tries on the resumption subsequently turned the game on its head and a sensational victory was assured when Harry McNulty crossed the whitewash for his side’s fourth try of the game.

From Eddy’s perspective, all the credit for this remarkable second period turnaround should be given to the Irish players.

“I didn’t have to say much, they said it themselves. They knew they were in a really good position. They worked extremely hard defensively for a good block. I think they grew a great deal of confidence around that defence for about two and a half minutes in that first half.

“We were fairly composed at half-time. Talking about just making sure we controlled the possession and continuing to put them under pressure around our defence. We knew there was going to be some dirty ball to pick up. We managed to do that and capitalise on a couple of their mistakes.”

This groundbreaking Ireland squad can now look forward to a whirlwind three days of rugby at the Tokyo Stadium from July 26-28. Considering the Olympics is indisputably regarded as the world’s biggest sporting stage, Eddy believes the presence of his troops in Japan could do wonders for the future development of the game in this country.

“I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for the organisation to capitalise on this success. We’ve got to continue to grow and develop the game at the grassroots. Also, I think it’s a great opportunity for the players from the non-traditional rugby backgrounds to actually put their hand up for a game like this. Continue to grow our participation numbers,” Eddy added.

“Continue to look at different pathways through the rugby programme. We’ve had a number of players who have progressed into the 15 ranks, but there’s not too many rugby players around in the world – men and women – that can become Olympians.

“I think a number of players can actually look up and go ‘well, I can be a specialist sevens player and become an Olympian, and go and represent my country’. Not only on the World Series, but at probably the biggest sporting event in the world.”