Ireland face familiar foes England in Women’s World Cup Sevens

If men beat Chile in preliminary clash they take on number-one ranked South Africa

Head coach Anthony Eddy talks to the Ireland women’s team during squad training for the  World Cup Sevens at   San Francisco GAA club. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Head coach Anthony Eddy talks to the Ireland women’s team during squad training for the World Cup Sevens at San Francisco GAA club. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

The Ireland Men and Women Sevens teams take to the field at AT&T Park in San Francisco, home to the San Francisco Giants Baseball team, in their respective World Cups this weekend thereby bringing to fruition a programme that began in earnest under the direction of Anthony Eddy in December 2014.

The Australian has put in place a structure and overseen the development of Irish Sevens teams with the Women competing in the elite World Series circuit – they finished 10th to retain their status for the 2018-2019 season – and the Men, who are enjoying regular success at European Grand Prix level and recently, as an Invitational side, finished third at the London Sevens, an unprecedented achievement.

Former Wicklow Gaelic footballer Lucy Mulhall captains Ireland in the 16-team Women’s tournament in which they have been drawn against semi-regular practice partners and eighth seeds, England.

The winners will most likely take on the number one seeds and tournament favourites, New Zealand, while the losers will go into the Challenge trophy where it should be Sevens World Cup debutants, Mexico, that await them.

Ireland’s Ashleigh Baxter and Billy Dardis at the launch of the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco, California. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Ireland’s Ashleigh Baxter and Billy Dardis at the launch of the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco, California. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

The Ireland Women’s team broke new ground this season in the World Series with first-ever wins over Canada and Russia while also achieving an historic high of a sixth-place finish in Langford. Tipperary flier Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe was Ireland’s standout try scorer with 18 in World Series tournaments.

The squad contains Irish Women’s most capped Sevens player, Ashleigh Baxter, outstanding scrumhalf Stacey Flood, who made the ‘Dream Team’ in the Langford event and in Katie Fitzhenry, Louise Galvin and Hannah Tyrrell, three players who represented their country in the 15s World Cup last summer in Dublin and Belfast.

The Ireland Men’s team bounced back from the heartbreak of losing in the semi-final of the Repechage tournament in Hong Kong in April – the winner of that event qualifies for the World Series circuit – by claiming a stunning third place in London and also outright victories in Moscow and Marcoussis on the European Grand Prix circuit.

The 26-year-old Munich-born, Buccaneers wing Jordan Conroy, who scored 11 tries in HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series events in London and Paris, a highpoint of which included eluding American speedster Carlin Isles in a footrace, is the marquee player in an Irish squad that contains club players and four in Robert Baloucoune (Ulster), Shane Daly (Munster), Hugo Keenan (Leinster) and Jimmy O’Brien (Leinster) that remain part of provincial academies.

Onerous assignment

Daly, Keenan, O’Brien and Terry Kennedy were members of the Ireland team beaten by England in the 2016 Under-20 World Cup final. Ireland are expected to beat Chile in their opening match in the Pre-Round of 16 – there are 24-teams in the tournament – and if that pans out would then face the number one seeds and 2018 Sevens World series champions, South Africa.

It is not as onerous an assignment as it might have been as the ‘Blitz Bokke’ are without some key names in Cecil Afrika, Kyle Brown, Chris Dry and Seabelo Senatla (all injured) and Kwagga Smith (Super Rugby). It’s nine years since Ireland last competed in the World Cup and it’s 25 years since an Irish side shocked the Sevens world in reaching a semi-final only to lose 21-19 to a David Campese-inspired Australia.

The appointment of South African Alan Temple Jones as strength & conditioning coach has been a huge plus for both Ireland teams and while neither is expected to make it to the business end of the World Cup proper, both sides are capable of bringing home a trophy.

TOURNAMENT FORMAT

MEN’S SEVENS

The opening round is an initial knock-out qualifier featuring the nations ranked ninth to 24th, while the top eight seeds progress automatically to the round of 16. Ireland are seeded 16th of the 24 teams and will play their opening match of the tournament in what is called the Round of Pre-16 against Chile. If they win that match they would face the number one-ranked Sevens team in the world and the recent winners of the World Series, South Africa in the Round of 16.

If they lose to Chile then Ireland will drop into the Bowl tournament for the eight teams that lose in the Pre-16 round and it’s a straight knock-out format from there. If Ireland beat Chile and lose to South Africa then they drop into the Challenge Cup tournament for the eight teams that lose in the Round of 16 and again it’s a straight knockout. If Ireland beat the ‘Blitz Bokke’ then they would face the winner of the game between Scotland and Kenya/Tonga in the quarter-finals of the World Cup proper.

WOMEN’S SEVENS

There are 16-teams in the tournament and Ireland take on eighth seeds, England in the Round of 16. If they win that match they would face New Zealand in the quarter-finals whereas if they are beaten by England they will face Mexico in the Challenge Cup. It’s a straight knock-out format in both competitions.

FIXTURES

Friday.

Women’s Sevens.

Round of 16: Ireland v England, AT&T Park, San Francisco (8.12pm, Irish time)

Men’s Sevens.

Pre-Round of 16: Ireland v Chile, AT&T Park, San Francisco (11.35pm, Irish time).

Saturday

Round of 16: Ireland/Chile v South Africa, AT&T Park, San Francisco (5.15am, Irish time)

Sunday

Men’s and Women’s, quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals.

PEN PICTURES

Ireland Men’s Sevens squad

Robert Baloucoune
Club: Enniskillen/Ballymena/Ulster
Age: 20
Ireland Sevens caps: 4
He made his Ireland Sevens debut in Hong Kong this year and is part of the Ulster Academy. He’s a tall, quick, strong player with a good skill set.

Jordan Conroy
Club: Buccaneers
Age: 24
Ireland Sevens caps: 7
An outstanding player in the Irish team, he lived in Munich until he was 10, and comes from an athletics and soccer background, only taking up rugby at his local club in Tullamore at 18. One of the fastest players in Irish rugby he was in the Connacht academy but now concentrates on Sevens.

Shane Daly
Club: Cork Constitution/Munster
Age: 21
Ireland Sevens caps: 4
Member of the Ireland team that reached the U-20 World Championship final (2016) and an All-Ireland League winner with Cork Constitution, he is in year three of the Munster Academy system.

Billy Dardis
Club: UCD
Age: 23
Ireland Sevens caps: 12
Dardis has been Ireland captain for the past two seasons. The talented Kildare man, who plays fullback in XVs and scrumhalf in Sevens, spent two seasons at Ireland U20s and was also a part of the Leinster Academy.

Ian Fitzpatrick
Club: Lansdowne
Age: 23
Ireland Sevens caps: 12
Born in Meath and educated at The Kings Hospital, he represented Ireland at U-19 and U-20 level, has an All-Ireland League winners’ medal with Lansdowne and is a former Leinster Academy product.

Foster Horan
Club: Lansdowne
Age: 25
Ireland Sevens caps: 2
From Wexford he is a product of Kilkenny College and his representative age-grade honours include playing for Ireland U-20s. An All-Ireland League winner (Lansdowne), made his Ireland Sevens debut at the World Series event in London.

Hugo Keenan
Club: UCD/Leinster
Age: 22
Ireland Sevens caps: 8
In his third year in the Leinster Academy he was part of the Ireland team that lost to England in the U-20 World Championship (2016) and last season made two appearances for Leinster in the Guinness Pro14.

Terry Kennedy
Club: St Mary’s College
Age: 22
Ireland Sevens caps: 8
He once scored six tries for the Ireland Under-20s in a match against a Leinster Development XV, is another member of that side that got to the Junior World Cup final and is the son of former Ireland wing, Terry (13 caps).

Harry McNulty
Club: UCD
Age: 25
Ireland Sevens caps: 15
Made his national Sevens debut in Bosnia in 2015, when Ireland played in the Rugby Europe Conference and has player at every senior tournament since then. A Munster Schools Senior Cup winner with Rockwell College (2011) he was also once of the Munster Academy.

Bryan Mollen
Club: Dublin University
Age: 22
Ireland Sevens caps: 4
He won his first Ireland Sevens cap in Hong Kong this year and previous honours include a Leinster Schools Senior Cup medal with Blackrock (2014) and an All-Ireland U20s win with Trinity in 2016.

Jimmy O’Brien
Club: UCD/Leinster
Age: 21
Ireland Sevens caps: 5
Educated at Newbridge College, he is the fourth member in the Sevens squad of that 2016 Ireland team beaten U-20 World Championship (2016) and is in his third year in the Leinster Academy.

John O’Donnell
Club: Lansdowne
Age: 25
Ireland Sevens caps: 9
He grew up in Wigan but qualifies to play for Ireland through his grandparents who hail from Galway and Sligo. He played with Sale Sharks before making the move to Ireland and linking up with Lansdowne.

Greg O’Shea
Club: Shannon
Age: 23
Ireland Sevens caps: 6
The former Crescent College schoolboy won a British & Irish Cup medal with Munster (2017) and was part of their academy while representing Ireland at U-19 and U-20 levels.

Ireland Women’s Sevens squad

Kathy Baker
Club: Blackrock College/Leinster
Age: 20
Ireland Sevens caps: 4
She took up rugby in King’s Hospital, was identified at the IRFU Sevens tournaments and progressed through the pathway, playing at U-18 level before making her senior debut at the Kitakyushu Sevens in Japan this season.

Ashleigh Baxter
Club: Cooke/Ulster
Age: 26
Ireland Sevens caps: 28
Ireland’s most capped Sevens player, Baxter has played both 15s and Sevens for her country and in three World Cups across both codes. She was a Grand Slam winner in the Women’s Six Nations Championship in 2013.

Claire Boles
Club: Railway Union/Ulster
Age: 20
Ireland Sevens caps: 5
The Enniskillen native played rugby at school, her local club and also for the Ulster XV and Sevens sides before being selected for the Ireland U-18 Sevens in 2016. She spent time last summer in Australia, where she played in the University Sevens with Bond University.

Aoife Doyle
Club: Shannon/Railway Union/Munster
Age: 23
Ireland Sevens caps: 9
The Limerick native began playing rugby with her club Shannon and progressed through the Munster age-grade sides before joining the Ireland Women’s Sevens programme. She has been capped for her country at both Sevens and 15s, winning a Six Nations medal in 2015.

Katie Fitzhenry
Club: Blackrock College/Leinster
Age: 29
Ireland Sevens caps: 21
The Wexford native played camogie initially before switching to rugby. She has since gone on to represent Ireland in both Sevens and 15s making her debut in the former code at the Guangzhou Sevens in China (2014).

Stacey Flood
Club: Railway Union/Leinster
Age: 21
Ireland Sevens caps: 24
The former Dublin Women’s Gaelic footballer progressed through the Ireland Women’s Sevens pathway, having first lined out for the U-18s in 2014. Since making her senior debut in Kazan in 2015, Flood has been ever present for the Irish side. She spent time in Australia last summer, where she captained Bond University.

Louise Galvin
Club: UL Bohemian/Munster
Age: 31
Ireland Sevens caps: 18
Played Gaelic football for Kerry and represented her country in basketball before deciding to give rugby a try. She made her Ireland Sevens debut in Kazan in 2015 and has also been capped for the Ireland Women’s XVs side.

Katie Heffernan
Club: Mulligar/Railway Union/Leinster
Age: 20
Ireland Sevens caps: 9
Another member of the squad who played Sevens at Bond University in Australia, the Mullingar player was identified for the Women’s Sevens programme at a blitz in her home club. She was then selected for the Ireland U-18s side, before making her senior debut at the Langford Sevens in 2017.

Eve Higgins
Club: Railway Union/Leinster
Age: 19
Ireland Sevens caps: 6
She started playing rugby in her local club, Barnhall RFC in Leixlip, was selected for the Ireland U-18s level before making her senior debut at the age of 18 in Dubai this season.

Lucy Mulhall
Club: Rathdrum
Age: 24
Ireland Sevens caps: 25
The Ireland Sevens captain played Gaelic football for Wicklow before being inspired to try rugby after winning the Irish Women’s Xvs side win a Grand Slam. She joined the Ireland Women’s Sevens programme in 2015 and since has scored 249 points (17 tries and 82 conversions) to date on the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series.

Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe
Club: Railway Union/Munster
Age: 23
Ireland Sevens caps: 27
The Tipperary native began playing rugby aged 15 in her local club Clanwilliam. She was selected for the Munster Senior 15s side at 18 and subsequently invited to join the Sevens programme. Since making her senior debut in Guangzhou in 2014, Murphy-Crowe has gone on to become the top try scorer for the Irish Women’s Sevens scoring 49 tries.

Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird
Club: UL Bohemian/Munster
Age: 22
Ireland Sevens caps: 6
She lined out on the wing for Munster at 15s before joining the Ireland Women’s Sevens Programme. She made her debut in Dubai in 2017 and played at every stage on this season’s World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series. Outside of rugby, she has competed in Jiu-Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts and also runs her own coffee business.

Audrey O’Flynn
Club: Ireland Sevens Programme
Age: 31
Ireland Sevens caps: 19
O’Flynn played hockey for Ireland on 120 occasions, scoring 30 goals before deciding to switch to Sevens rugby. She joined the Ireland Women’s Sevens Programme in 2014 and made her debut in Brive in 2015.

Hannah Tyrell
Club: Old Belvedere/Leinster
Age: 27
Ireland Sevens caps: 21
She played in goal for Dublin in Gaelic football before taking up her Ireland Sevens career that started in Amsterdam (2014). She has also represented the Ireland Women’s 15s side, with whom she won Six Nations medal in 2015.

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