The Six Nations grand slam is in the bag and now Ireland are eyeing a World Series berth at the Hong Kong Sevens
After 18 years in the wilderness, Anthony Eddy’s side return to the home of sevens on a mission
Irish rugby can do no wrong at the moment and sevens captain Billy Dardis hopes the roll continues as they return to the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens for the first time in 18 years.
With Leinster and Munster through to the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup and a Six Nations grand slam in the bag, Dardis says there is a confidence in the camp ahead of the World Series qualifier.
“For us, we’re supporters and we’re delighted. It’s massive for Irish rugby and it gives us a bit of confidence and hopefully we can do a job this weekend as well,” he said.
That job – to qualify for the World Series – would have seemed laughable only three years ago when Ireland didn’t even have a sevens programme.
But their rise has been rapid and, while the code has been gradually gaining recognition, Dardis knows a berth on the World Series will make people stand up and take notice, maybe even some of the country’s biggest names.
“Maybe we might see the likes of [15s stars] Andrew Conway or Keith Earls coming down, that’d be pretty cool and they’d add a lot anyway,” he said.
“It would be a tasty prospect to take a year out and travel and do something new. It’s obviously very exciting, the whole sevens circuit.
“That attractiveness might pull over a few but we’ve got 20 or 30 lads in the sevens programme at the moment that won’t let them in that easy.”
After committing to a sevens programme three years ago, Ireland had to work their way through the divisions before finishing second to Russia in last year’s Rugby Europe Men’s Sevens Championships to qualify for Hong Kong and July’s Rugby World Cup Sevens.
“Ideally there is plans in place to try and grow the game [of sevens] in Ireland, we want to be able to have domestic competitions and have players competing for positions on the national team,” said coach Anthony Eddy.
“We look at sevens being another pathway for the players through to professional 15s. The whole idea behind it was to provide another pathway.
“We see great opportunity for the game to grow in Ireland and target your non-traditional rugby players and give them a taste of sevens. Then they can choose to stay with sevens or they can progress to 15s down the track.”
While there are no official sevens contracts and the squad is made up of club players from the All-Ireland League and the academies of the four Pro 14 teams, Eddy is confident Ireland could handle the step up to the top level should they win this weekend.
“There’s plenty of strong opposition and teams that have been in Hong Kong before, but we are a reasonably strong side and we’re in with a chance,” he said.
“The thing in our favour is that we have rugby players already and the club competition is extremely strong and some of the young players coming through the schools and academies provide us with a good depth of rugby knowledge.”