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Kennedy ‘Delighted To Be Back’ As New HSBC SVNS Series Kicks Off

Kennedy ‘Delighted To Be Back’ As New HSBC SVNS Series Kicks Off

Kennedy ‘Delighted To Be Back’ As New HSBC SVNS Series Kicks Off

St. Mary's College clubman Terry Kennedy has scored 78 tries in 20 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournaments ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Terry Kennedy, the 2022 World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the Year, is raring to go after some time away from Sevens while working with Ireland team sponsors, TritonLake, in Australia.

His timely return to the Ireland Sevens set-up on a full-time basis is a major boost for James Topping’s side as they prepare for an important 2024 season, with eight HSBC SVNS Series events before the Olympics next summer.

Kennedy played at the last Games in Tokyo where Olympic debutants Ireland finished 10th. The 27-year-old believes his hiatus from the game has given him renewed energy for what is set to be an action-packed year.

“I was working full-time,” he explained, speaking alongside team-mate Jack Kelly ahead of the start of the revamped HSBC SVNS campaign in Dubai this weekend.

“I ended up playing with the lads down (at the World Series legs) in Sydney and Hamilton in January. I was in Australia working for TritonLake. I was working with them beforehand alongside the Sevens and then went full-time.

“It was always something I wanted to do, have a stint abroad. There’s never a perfect time, but I kind of got that out of my system. Definitely came back with a new energy and a fresh mentality.

“I think it’s helpful. I don’t know if you need it. It is helpful now. I’m really enjoying being back in here (with the Sevens squad at the IRFU High Performance Centre) again.

“I’m back six months now, so it doesn’t feel like it was that close. Really enjoyed the pre-season of working hard in here and looking forward to the season ahead.”

When asked if it was a difficult decision to step away from the team, he replied: “100%. More so to step away from being in here with the lads every day.

“It was difficult. The craic you have in here with the lads. Some of my best mates (are) in here, so it was difficult to leave it for a few months, but now delighted to be back.”

Kelly is another experienced Sevens international with 26 World Series tournaments under his belt. A Sevens debutant in 2019, the once-capped Leinster player became an Olympian two years later and is one of Ireland’s leading forwards on the Sevens circuit.

Talking about the team’s style of play and how important their decision-making is in a split second, the former Ireland Under-20 captain said: “We train in a way that we have our brand of rugby in mind. We like playing wide-wide. Our main focus is just making the right decision in the moment.

“That’s where it differs from 15s a little bit, where there would be different games you play very differently, depending on what your opponent does.

“We have teams that give us big line speed. We have teams that are soft against us. There are differences in that regard as well.

“I think we probably rely on our individual ability, our individual skills, and just our individual decision-making. Once we get past our set-piece, it’s more just playing the right decision at the right time.”

The set-piece is an aspect of rugby that gets a lot of attention, especially in the 15s game. A good set-piece can provide the launchpad to create attacking and scoring opportunities. Kelly said it is an equally important facet of Sevens rugby.

“It absolutely can. We do have a lot of moves either off lineouts, scrums or tap (penalties) that we can go to when we need to. We’ve had a nice opportunity to work on them actually in the pre-season. We’ll have some new stuff coming into this season.”

The Paris Games next year will mark the first time that both Ireland Sevens teams have competed at an Olympics together. It will be a huge moment for the IRFU Sevens Programmes, especially given the Men’s team only achieved World Series core status in 2019, six years after the Women’s side.

Kennedy has been there from the very beginning of the Men’s Sevens project, which was initiated by IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora in 2014 as part of an expanded Player Development Pathway.

The fleet-footed Dubliner, who scored 50 tries as the 2022 World Series’ top try scorer, hopes they can attract new eyes to the game, while giving the Irish public plenty to cheer about as they press for a medal to match last year’s Rugby World Cup Sevens bronze.

There’s not too many team sports for Ireland that qualify (for the Olympics). With ourselves and the girls going over, that’s a big cohort of the whole Ireland Olympic squad being made up of Sevens players.

“The better we perform over there as well, we’ll probably put it more on the map. It’s probably the pinnacle of the Sevens sport and it’s something we’re really excited about.”

He welcomes the idea of a World Series event here on home soil in the coming years, admitting: “It’s a bit disappointing that we don’t, but that’s the nature of the World Series. This year there are only eight tournaments around the world, so they spread it out.

“Hopefully, at some stage in the future, Ireland will be able to host Sevens events because I think it would really kick off. I think the public would buy into it. If it was something that could happen in the future, that would be great.”

Both Kennedy and Kelly have watched players come and go within the system, with some, like Hugo Keenan and Jimmy O’Brien from Ireland’s 2023 Rugby World Cup squad, shining in the national Sevens jersey before doing likewise in 15s.

The news of France star Antoine Dupont’s switching codes leaves the door open for others to follow, and it is seen as a positive development by those competing at the highest level.

“I think it just shows where the sport is at the moment,” noted Kelly. “We’re definitely an emerging sport, and being an Olympic sport now (since 2016) has definitely drawn a lot of attention to it.

“I think players like Antoine or any of the other players, they see an opportunity to become an Olympian, which is an incredible feat. I can understand why they make that decision.”

Kennedy agrees that having established 15s players like Dupont come in can only be a good thing for the progression of the sport. If it happens with some other nations, it will increase the already ultra-competitive battle for selection. This is not something that worries the Ireland playmaker.

“We’re not concentrating on that at all. We’ve a really strong squad in here that have been around for a long time. It is a different sport, so I think if anyone is to make the move, they need to give (it) ample time.

“Dupont is doing it for the year. Otherwise they’ll just fall by the wayside. We’ve a really competitive squad in here already. A really strong squad that will put ourselves in a really good spot, no matter what,” he added.