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Ireland Set Sights On Kenya After Tough Opening Day In Tokyo

Ireland Set Sights On Kenya After Tough Opening Day In Tokyo

Billy Dardis in action against USA in Tokyo. ©Mike Lee/World Rugby

Ireland Men’s Sevens were unable to mark their debut appearance at the Olympic Games with the dream start as they slipped to defeats to South Africa and USA at Tokyo Stadium on Monday.

Anthony Eddy‘s side made history as they became the first Irish Rugby team to compete at the Games, but back-to-back Pool C defeats leaves their hopes of progressing through to the quarter-finals resting on Tuesday’s crucial clash against Kenya (3am Irish time.

The Blitzboks and USA proved clinical opponents on the opening day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Rugby Sevens competition for Ireland, who were firmly in both contests but a number of uncharacteristic errors cost them dearly, as they slipped to 33-14 and 19-17 reversals.

In the opening game, South Africa made a strong start through back-t0-back tries from Zain Davids and Impi Visser but Ireland responded strongly before half-time, as Gavin Mullin went over uncontested after a period of sustained Ireland pressure on the Blitzbok line.

With just one score in it at half-time, Ireland were very much in the contest but South Africa found an instant riposte on the restart and restored their two-score advantage as Justin Geduld went over in the far corner.

Terry Kennedy provided a glimpse of his magic footwork and lightning speed as he looped around Harry McNulty to pierce through the South African defence for a seven-pointer, but it was South Africa who finished strongly to secure the victory thanks to tries from Chris Day and Stedman Gans.

Eddy’s side needed a big response against USA but they were on the back foot from the off as a powerful Eagles outfit seized the early initiative through Perry Baker and Madison Hughes. Once again, however, Ireland settled and conjured a crucial score on the half-time hooter, with Hugo Lennox finishing superbly after a typically physical Foster Horan carry.

With their tails up, Ireland moved to within two points of USA on the restart as McNulty went over following a fine team move involving Lennox and Kennedy, but Steve Tomasin‘s second-half try restored USA’s two-try advantage.

Ireland now need a strong win over Kenya in their final Pool outing as they bid to progress as one of the two best third placed teams, and Horan’s last-gasp try, converted by Mark Roche, may well prove crucial.

Speaking afterwards, Lennox said: “Gutted really. I felt like we really had the beating of these guys before the game. They kept the ball well and kept us out of the game really. They tired us out, which was disappointing and something we’re going to have to work on before tomorrow.

“USA probably went through seven or eight phases at the start of that game, that’s a real killer. It kind of just blows any momentum – and when you do get the ball, you’re tired and it’s tough to get going. I think we’re going to have to get a real focus on keeping the ball early and going from there tomorrow.”

Jordan Conroy added: “I don’t think that game reflects how we actually played. I think we have a lot more to give, so I think we just need to shift our focus now onto tomorrow against Kenya and see what we need to do and just execute it. I’m annoyed but that said, day one is done. Tomorrow is the big one for us now, so all eyes on that now. We play these teams in the World Series. They’re nothing new to us. We know we have to do our job in order to beat these, we just didn’t do it today.”

Tune in to Ireland v Kenya at 3am Irish time on Tuesday on RTÉ.

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