The Ireland men’s Sevens team’s dream of a tournament win in the World Series continues following a gutsy 21-5 Cup final defeat to South Africa in Dubai. Ireland had previously reached a decider at the French Sevens in Toulouse last May, including a first ever victory over the Blitzboks at the pool stage but were beaten by Fiji in the final.
James Topping’s team conceded three first-half tries to trail 21-0 at the interval and despite a try from Jack Kelly could not make significant inroads into the deficit. South Africa’s defence was the key to this victory.
Indiscipline cost Ireland a couple of early penalty turnovers and the Blitzboks demonstrated why they are the kingpins in Dubai – this was their fourth consecutive tournament win here – with a brace of tries from speedster Shilton van Wyk.
Ireland won a couple of penalties but despite securing ball from the ensuing lineout, South Africa’s defensive line speed shut off the outside channel and ultimately forced another error as Siviwe Soyizwapi stepped in to intercept a pass, run 80 metres and give the Blitzboks a 21-0 half-time lead.
South Africa were disciplined in their defence, frustrating Ireland, and clever in the way they attacked the ball and ran down the clock, facilitated in a couple of decisions by referee Jordan Way. Kelly’s sharp finish and a couple of half-chances late tantalised the Irish players and supporters in a packed stadium with hope, but it was not to be as the better team prevailed.
Penny for the thoughts of Terry Kennedy, Ireland’s World Sevens Player of the Year, in Dubai as a guest of HSBC, who watched on from the stands as his erstwhile team-mates tried to create history. Kennedy has temporarily moved to Australia, on a year’s sabbatical from Sevens, but will rejoin his buddies to try and help them qualify for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
How Ireland could have done with him on the pitch. Kennedy will catch up with the Irish squad once again in January, as the World Series moves first to Hamilton in New Zealand and then the following week to Sydney.
There are various routes to qualify for the Olympics but the most direct if to finish in the top four teams in the World Series standings at the end of the season.
In the opening tournament in Hong Kong, Ireland having won all three pool matches suffered a series of disappointing results to finish seventh overall. For the first time in its history only the top 12 of 16 teams will be guaranteed places in the World Series next season; previously one team was relegated but that number will increase to four.
Sparea thought too for Lansdowne’s Seán Galvin, called up from the Ireland second string to the elite squad, after Chay Mullins had a passport issue. Galvin ordinarily would have seen some game time but ended up as 13th man – only 12 tog out per match – for the entire tournament.
Ireland beat Argentina 19-14 in the quarter-final with a brilliant late solo try from Jordan Conroy and then in the semi-final endured a tense, taut, thriller against the USA. The sides finished 7-7 at full-time with the game then decided by ‘the golden point’ the first team to grab a score of any nature.
Mark Roche provided the decisive moment with a scampering run and finish for a try following a scrum. On Friday, Ireland had a mixed day, drawing with Spain (21-21), beating invitational side Uganda (33-15) and losing 14-7 to France. They qualified for the Cup quarter-final on points difference.
The Ireland men’s team are fourth overall in the standings after two tournaments. Topping’s squad will hope to take momentum from their achievement to Cape Town next weekend for the next leg of the World Series.
Aiden McNulty’s Ireland Women’s Sevens squad finished sixth overall following a disappointing second day in Dubai when they lost 5-0 to the USA in the Cup quarter-finals, and despite beating Britain 21-12 in the fifth- to eighth-place semi-final, lost 28-12 to Fiji, whom they had beaten in the pool stage.
Ireland had won all three pool matches. They beat Spain 21-7 with tries from Eve Higgins, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe and Megan Burns, with captain Lucy Mulhall converting all three.
McNulty’s squad followed up with a 31-14 win over Japan, Higgins, Murphy Crowe, Beibhinn Parsons (two) and Mulhall the try scorers and then in the final game of the day enjoyed a brilliant 24-17 win over Fiji. Higgins (two), Murphy Crowe and Parsons scored tries while Mulhall tagged on a couple of conversions.
Ireland lost 5-0 a try from the USA’s Naya Tapper but then responded in their fifth-place playoff semi-final with a 21-12 victory over Britain; Mulhall, Higgins and Murphy Crowe, crossing for tries, all converted by the Irish captain.
Parsons and Murphy Crowe crossed for tries against a Fiji side that led 14-12 at the interval but the Pacific Island nation pulled away with two converted second-half tries to avenge their pool game defeat.
Ireland will be hoping to improve on that sixth place finish next week in Cape Town. The top four teams in the standings at the end of the World Series automatically qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics.