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Dardis: Cape Town Is An Opportunity To Back Up Our World Series Form

Dardis: Cape Town Is An Opportunity To Back Up Our World Series Form

Dardis: Cape Town Is An Opportunity To Back Up Our World Series Form

Ireland captain Billy Dardis is pictured during a TritonLake media event ahead of the start of the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Cape Town ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Captain Billy Dardis is keen to avoid a potential ‘dogfight’ with Portugal as Ireland bid to plot their way towards the Championship rounds of the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Cape Town.

The Ireland Men (sponsored by TritonLake) have the honour of kicking off the tournament on Friday morning, knowing that two wins on the opening day would put them through to the quarter-final stage.

The straight knockout format has the Portuguese first up for James Topping’s side, with England awaiting the winners in the round of 16. Whoever comes through that clash will likely have hosts South Africa as their quarter-final opponents.

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Understandably, and with a core group in the squad having World Cup, World Series and Olympic experience, Dardis says their full focus is on the Portugal match and making sure they get off to a strong start.

“Playing the likes of Portugal it’s like playing any South American team, the likes of Argentina, or Spain. They’re real tough and niggly,” said the Ireland skipper, speaking from their base in Cape Town.

“We’ve had some real good battles with Portugal down through the years. I know it’s not the exact same group of players that we’re playing, but they always seem to play the exact same.

“If you’re not on your game, it can turn into a real dogfight. We saw it a few years ago in the last World Cup, we played Chile in our first game and only but for a try at the very end we could have lost to them.

“If you take teams like that for granted in this format you can really end up with egg on your face. I suppose we’ll be going in as heavy favourites, having performed quite well throughout the year.

“For them coming in as underdogs, any type of win, if they score a try, if they make a line break, even if they make a tackle, it will be celebrated in their eyes. If you let that happen over and over, that can really get on top of you.

“It will be a big one for us and hopefully we can just be a little bit poker-faced about it. Go about our work, nail down our detail, be really clinical and do the job because I know, like every team, when we’re on it, we can beat the best in the world.”

Ireland come into the tournament off the back of a very encouraging World Series campaign, registering their best ever overall finish of fifth after winning silver at the Toulouse leg and reaching eight quarter-finals out of nine.

Harry McNulty, Jordan Conroy and Terry Kennedy remain key performers for the team, with ever-elusive playmaker Kennedy starring this season as the World Series’ top try scorer (50 tries in 52 games) and landing a spot on the HSBC Dream Team.

Topping is able to call upon eight Olympians this week, but also pushing for starting places are the Leinster Academy’s Andrew Smith and IQ Rugby duo Matt McDonald and Chay Mullins, who have all quickly made an impression at World Series level.

Dardis, who has captained Ireland since 2017, revealed: “Prep has gone pretty well over the last few weeks. Obviously we went to LA and went decent enough there. Got over here to Cape Town last Wednesday

“The excitement has just been building all week for it and everyone’s just looking forward to that first game on Friday morning.”

Thousands of fans will pack out the iconic Cape Town Stadium for the three-day World Cup extravaganza, and Dardis and six of this week’s squad have played there before at the Cape Town Sevens in December 2019.

Ireland finished sixth at that tournament in the Western Cape, beating Australia and Samoa most notably with flying winger Conroy making the HSBC Dream Team.

However, their debut World Series season as a core team was unfortunately cut short due to Covid-19. When the Sevens circuit resumed, they had to get used to playing in empty and sparsely populated stadiums.

The early morning kick-off this Friday could hark back to those times, with Dardis admitting: “Everyone’s first game of the World Cup is going to be high pressure. If anything, an 8.45 kick-off in the morning, I don’t think many people will actually be in the stadium!

It could be pretty quiet. Maybe a few die-hard parents that have made their way down here. I suppose we learned throughout Covid with the empty stadiums that the quieter the stadium, the more energy the team have to build themselves.

“For us, it’ll just be about going out and sticking to our basics and sticking to our systems and executing on what we want to execute. Not too much added pressure, apart from what we’ll put on ourselves.”

In camp, Ireland have done a lot of preparation and analysis on Portugal in recent days, a team that they beat 29-0 during the World Cup European Qualifier in Bucharest in July.

The Portuguese side bounced back on day two to qualify for the World Cup, edging out Spain 20-19 to show how capable they are of beating World Series opposition. They also finished sixth in the recent Rugby Europe Championship.

Dardis helped Ireland to finish ninth at the 2018 World Cup Sevens in San Francisco, and the Naas man is determined to keep up the momentum of their recent World Series displays and ensure the team reach their potential in South Africa.

Reflecting on 2022 so far and the progress they have made, the 27-year-old acknowledged: “I suppose fifth (in the World Series) was a fair reflection of where we are as a programme, as a team and how we performed this year.

We were pretty happy with it – we made our first World Series final, beat Fiji and South Africa, nearly beat New Zealand – and I think now it’s an opportunity to back that up and hopefully go further.

“A World Cup is a one-off, it’s knockout straight from the start. It’s going to be extremely exciting, but with it being a knockout, you can’t look too far past that first game.

“Hopefully we can maintain that momentum that we’ve built up throughout the year and put on a really good performance.”