‘It’ll be a huge learning curve’ – Sevens’ sides ready for biggest test yet

IT’S ONLY BEEN seven months since Anthony Eddy’s appointment as head of sevens and women’s rugby in Ireland, but he’s seen plenty of developments so far in his tenure.

The Australian has been a busy man in the last two months, as he launched Ireland’s new men’s sevens team, as well as taking them and the women’s side through their opening Olympic qualifying events in June.

The next step for both comes in Lisbon this weekend, as they travel for the Rugby Europe Olympic Repechage, needing a top three finish to keep their hopes for Rio 2016 alive.

While the men’s side only came together in May, they’ve had little trouble in progressing through their first two divisions in Bosnia and Croatia, winning both events at a canter, but their low seed coming into the Lisbon tournament means they’ll be facing some more established sevens nations, with Russia, Georgia and Italy drawn in the pool stage this Saturday.

“It’s going to be enormous, absolutely. Russia, who are seeded number one for the tournament, they’ve just qualified for the world series, so they’ve been playing sevens for a number of years.

While the wins in the two previous tournaments may have been largely uncompetitive – Ireland scored 60 tries and conceded none in Croatia last time out – Eddy says that any game-time for players still acclimatising to the format is a valuable experience.

“You’re always learning from games. Although they had some blowout scores, you might say they weren’t terribly competitive, just the fact that they’re playing competitions and playing sevens games is good learning as well, it’ll put them in great stead for this weekend.

Eddy was brought in by the IRFU in December 2014. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“If we didn’t have those two tournaments, you wouldn’t know what really to expect from them this weekend.

Eddy will also be bringing Ireland’s women’s team to Lisbon this weekend for their next step on the road to Rio, with a third place finish required after finishing fifth in their two previous qualifiers.

However, their victors in the quarter final on each occasion – France and England – will not be at this weekend’s tournament, giving the Irish a chance to flex their muscles on the competition, as Belgium, Ukraine and Romania await in the pool.

While the sevens set-up for Ireland’s women may not be as new as the men’s, several members of the side have been plucked into the game from other sports in the last year.

Eddy with men’s and women’s captains Tom Daly and Lucy Mulhall. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Their ability to get to grips with rugby, let alone with the sevens format, has been something Eddy is impressed with.

“I was (surprised). Again the girls have worked hard over the last six months, a lot of girls have just been introduced to the game fairly quickly, so they’ve had to learn and appreciate the contact area of the game.

For both sides, the ability to transition so quickly into the sevens format has been promising from Eddy’s perspective, with the men’s squad in particular only forming in the past few months.

Whether or not Rio becomes a reality, the Australian is confident that further development is a case of when, rather than if, for sevens rugby in Ireland, with both sides ultimately seeking a spot on the world series in the long term.

“The Irish already have a really good skill set around the game, they’re really suited to the game I think because of their skills, but also just their general athleticism, and in the game of sevens, it’s great to have fighting spirit, so that’s certainly something the Irish can bring to the game of sevens.”

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