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Ireland Men End World Series With Historic Fifth Place Finish

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Only a core team since 2019, Ireland (sponsored by TritonLake) were 10th in their Covid-19-curtailed debut year and came sixth in the two-legged 2021 series.

Now, on the back of their silver medal heroics in Toulouse and two other top four finishes, they have closed out their first fully-completed World Series in fifth place as the leading northern hemisphere nation.

The HSBC LA Sevens saw James Topping’s side reach their eighth Cup quarter-final of the campaign, but New Zealand got the better of them on a 29-14 scoreline. Returning to the pitch, Ireland then lost their grip on a 21-point lead against fast-finishing Argentina.

The 28-21 play-off defeat to the Pumas left the men in green with another top eight finish, their 10 rankings points taking their haul for the season to 92, ahead of the USA (87) and France (81), and behind fourth-place Argentina (118).

“Fifth for us is a massive thing because it’s only our first year on a whole World Series,” said coach Topping. “Our goal was always to retain our status as such, but the guys have had really, really good performances.

“There’s a lot of competition (within the squad). We had quite a settled team for a few years, maybe 12, 13 or 14 guys to pick from. This year I think we’ve got 22 guys who have played on the World Series.

“There’s guys who have come into the programme and after a month, they have been sent out there to show what they can do. So it’s a really good position to be in to have experienced guys there, we can bring in three, four guys and see how they go.

“And then that also puts pressure on the older guys, as such, to perform. We’ve got a nice blend at the minute. I’ve full confidence in all the players that go on the pitch, but it’s given us that sort of team that can play for a full 14 minutes.”

Captain Billy Dardis and that experienced core group keep a steady hand on the tiller, with the likes of Terry Kennedy continuing to reach new heights as his 50-try tally saw him crowned the World Series top try scorer for 2021/22.

Eight players have made their World Series debuts for Ireland in the last nine months, acquitting themselves very well. Youngsters Andrew Smith and Chay Mullins have already played 61 matches between them, scoring 13 tries.

An experienced New Zealand outfit put together a formidable first half display, breaking into a 24-0 half-time lead thanks to a run of tries from Joe Webber, Caleb Tangitau, Amanaki Nicole and Ngarohi McGarvey-Black.

They got the bounce of the ball from the kick-off, allowing Webber to quickly get them on the board despite picking up a hamstring injury in the process. Akuila Rokolisoa converted for a 7-0 lead.

A flat pass put Tangitau over in the left corner as Ireland struggled for both possession and territory, and New Zealand pushed 17 points clear when, following a lineout, they went back to the short side for Nicole to score.

Some refereeing decisions were going against Topping’s charges, Mark Roche left frustrated by an incorrect call for a knock-on, and the All Blacks outfit used the scrum possession to send McGarvey-Black in under the posts.

Ireland were much-improved when the second half got underway, Jordan Conroy increasing his threat and Roche cut in past two players to link with Kennedy who darted through a gap to pull seven points back.

However, the game was scoreless during Regan Ware’s sin-bin period, with Harry McNulty tackled short of the line and Ireland were unable to get back into contention.

Nicole shrugged off a tackle at the other end to send Lewis Ormond over in the left corner, while there was some late consolation when Kennedy and McNulty combined, the latter’s accurate long pass allowing Ed Kelly to raid over from out wide.

IRELAND MEN’S SEVENS Squad (HSBC LA Sevens, Dignity Health Sports Park, August 27-28, 2022):

Jordan Conroy (Buccaneers RFC)
Niall Comerford (UCD RFC/Leinster)
Sean Cribbin (Suttonians RFC)
Billy Dardis (Terenure College RFC) (capt)
Ed Kelly (Dublin University FC)
Jack Kelly (Dublin University FC)
Terry Kennedy (St. Mary’s College RFC)
Hugo Lennox (Skerries RFC)
Matt McDonald (IQ Rugby)
Harry McNulty (UCD RFC)
Bryan Mollen (Blackrock College RFC)
Chay Mullins (IQ Rugby)
Aaron O’Sullivan (Blackrock College RFC)
Mark Roche (Lansdowne FC)
Andrew Smith (Clontarf FC/Leinster)

HSBC WORLD RUGBY SEVENS SERIES – LA SEVENS RESULTS:

Saturday, August 27 –

POOL C:

IRELAND 14 FRANCE 12, Dignity Health Sports Park
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Terry Kennedy, Chay Mullins; Cons: Hugo Lennox, Billy Dardis
France: Tries: Pierre Mignot, Varian Pasquet; Con: Thibaud Mazzoleni
HT: Ireland 7 France 5

Team: Harry McNulty, Bryan Mollen, Jack Kelly, Mark Roche, Hugo Lennox, Terry Kennedy, Aaron O’Sullivan.

Subs used: Andrew Smith, Chay Mullins, Billy Dardis (capt), Niall Comerford, Ed Kelly.

IRELAND 46 WALES 12, Dignity Health Sports Park
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Terry Kennedy, Andrew Smith 2, Mark Roche, Niall Comerford, Aaron O’Sullivan 2, Chay Mullins; Cons: Billy Dardis, Mark Roche 2
Wales: Tries: Luke Treharne, Lloyd Lewis; Con: Luke Treharne
HT: Ireland 17 Wales 12

Team: Harry McNulty, Andrew Smith, Chay Mullins, Billy Dardis (capt), Hugo Lennox, Terry Kennedy, Ed Kelly.

Subs used: Jack Kelly, Aaron O’Sullivan, Bryan Mollen, Mark Roche, Niall Comerford.

FIJI 21 IRELAND 7, Dignity Health Sports Park
Scorers: Fiji: Tries: Waisea Nacuqu, Kaminieli Rasaku, Iowane Teba; Cons: Waisea Nacuqu 2, Kaminieli Rasaku
Ireland: Try: Harry McNulty; Con: Billy Dardis
HT: Fiji 14 Ireland 0

Team: Harry McNulty, Bryan Mollen, Andrew Smith, Mark Roche, Niall Comerford, Aaron O’Sullivan, Jordan Conroy.

Subs used: Billy Dardis (capt), Ed Kelly, Chay Mullins, Hugo Lennox, Terry Kennedy.

HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series – LA Sevens Results

HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series – LA Sevens Pool Tables

Day 1 Round-Up: Ireland Men Tee Up La Quarter-Final Clash With New Zealand

Sunday, August 28 –

CUP QUARTER-FINAL:

NEW ZEALAND 29 IRELAND 14, Dignity Health Sports Park
Scorers: New Zealand: Tries: Joe Webber, Caleb Tangitau, Amanaki Nicole, Ngarohi McGarvey-Black, Lewis Ormond; Cons: Akuila Rokolisoa 2
Ireland: Tries: Terry Kennedy, Ed Kelly; Cons: Mark Roche, Billy Dardis
HT: New Zealand 24 Ireland 0

Team: Harry McNulty, Andrew Smith, Chay Mullins, Mark Roche, Hugo Lennox, Terry Kennedy, Jordan Conroy.

Subs used: Billy Dardis (capt), Aaron O’Sullivan, Ed Kelly, Bryan Mollen, Jack Kelly.

5TH PLACE SEMI-FINAL:

ARGENTINA 28 IRELAND 21, Dignity Health Sports Park
Scorers: Argentina: Tries: Rodrigo Isgro 2, Alejo Lavayen, Tomas Lizazu; Cons: Alejo Lavajen 4
Ireland: Tries: Jack Kelly, Ed Kelly, Bryan Mollen; Cons: Billy Dardis 3
HT: Argentina 7 Ireland 21

Team: Bryan Mollen, Jack Kelly, Chay Mullins, Billy Dardis (capt), Niall Comerford, Terry Kennedy, Ed Kelly.

Subs used: Andrew Smith, Harry McNulty, Hugo Lennox, Jordan Conroy, Mark Roche.

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


6 Nations

‘Tour Experience Should Help Players To Kick On’ – Easterby

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The 35-man panel was announced yesterday for their upcoming trip to South Africa, which will see them play the Griquas, Pumas and Cheetahs as part of the Toyota Challenge, beginning on Friday, September 30.

Baloucoune was set to tour New Zealand with Ireland last summer, but a hip injury sidelined him at the end of last season. Now, a year out from the Rugby World Cup, he is determined to get back in the Test match fold.

Emerging Ireland head coach Simon Easterby sees the Bloemfontein series as a timely opportunity for the Ulster winger, who was capped against the USA and Argentina last year, to showcase his talent again in a green jersey.

“Rob was due to come to New Zealand with us and didn’t because of injury. He is certainly one that has been around the environment for a while, but he’s only got a couple of caps,” said Easterby.

“I guess him and a few others in there, we feel like there’s still a need for us to build time and exposure in what we’re trying to do.

“We’re really lucky at the moment that all the players are getting a high level of coaching and expertise in the provinces, but we do things slightly differently as the provinces will do.

“So, we need to make sure that we keep them aligned to what we’re doing in the national set-up. It’s not a million miles apart from each other, but there’s always going to be little nuances and differences that we have, that each province will do slightly differently.”

The Enniskillen man was in electric form at times during the 2021/22 campaign, his Heineken Champions Cup hat-trick away to Toulouse and a couple of dazzling scores in the URC standing out.

As one of only four Test-capped players in the Emerging Ireland selection, Baloucoune could have more of a leadership role to play in Bloemfontein where Easterby anticipates ‘a good standard of rugby’ and ‘a fast-flowing game, on potentially a dry track’.

His speed, athleticism and defensive and attacking skills look ideally suited for the three-match run, given the Ireland youngsters will be coming up against ‘some serious athletes in the three teams we will be playing against’.

Easterby continued: “For someone like Rob, who has spent time in the environment, he came in as a development player a couple of years ago and then won a couple of caps and did really well.

“Then he’s had to spend a bit of time out with injury. We would have loved to have seen him in New Zealand, getting opportunities out there, but we didn’t get that chance.

“So, he’s one that we feel will benefit from spending more time in our environment. Hopefully he goes back to Ulster after the experience and he kicks on again.

There’s this massive opportunity over the next couple of months, through the (Ireland) ‘A’ game and the autumn internationals and beyond that into the Six Nations and beyond, for players like Rob and others.

“The time spent with us, in the bigger picture, is hopefully going to expose them and give them a real good foundation for the season ahead because it is such a massive season for all of us.”

Versatile Leinster back Frawley, who turns 25 in December, is shaping up to be a contender for the Ireland number 10 jersey after his exploits in New Zealand.

During that second Test victory over Māori All Blacks, he stood tall in managing the game in wet and windy conditions in Wellington and contributed 10 points from the tee.

While Frawley has played most of his provincial rugby at inside centre, the Ireland management want to see more of him at out-half and this upcoming tour could see him really come to the fore.

“We feel ‘Frawls’ has the potential to lead in a number of different positions,” noted Easterby. “Obviously he’s played 12 a fair bit for Leinster, but we see him – which he did in the Māori weeks – as being a guy that can lead from the front at 10. You know, lead a week.

“He’ll be asked in the next few weeks to do a slightly different role to what he was doing in New Zealand because he had a lot of senior players around him.

“We feel like he has the ability to step up and lead the week as someone like, the extreme, that Johnny Sexton does week in and week out and has done for a number of years.

“Giving those players like ‘Frawls’ the chance to put himself at the forefront of a week, lead it and take the team to a performance on a weekend in that position of 10 is crucial for us.”

Frawley will certainly face some stiff competition for the starting berth from Munster’s Jack Crowley and Ulster newcomer Jake Flannery, who made the switch from his native Munster and has similarly lofty ambitions.

Getting these players up to speed with the rigours of an international set-up and playing in a challenging touring environment is of huge value to the national coaches, but also potentially for their provinces on their return.

“We’re still finding a little bit about Frawls and the way he can play. You can see that when they’re playing in the URC and they’re playing for their provinces, but it is slightly different,” said the Emerging Ireland head coach.

“It’s not hugely different but it is different when you have them in your environment across a period of a couple of weeks.

“Hopefully we can benefit from that time and Frawls and the other players can benefit from that time with us when they go back to their provinces after this trip.”

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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6 Nations

Easterby: Emerging Ireland Tour Allows Us To Look Further Into Talent Pool

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Presenting an early opportunity to work with and impress the national coaches in a World Cup year, an Emerging Ireland squad has been selected to compete in the upcoming Toyota Challenge in Bloemfontein.

Three of South Africa’s Currie Cup teams, the Griquas, Pumas and Cheetahs, will provide the opposition for a young squad coached by Simon Easterby, the national defence coach.

The 35-man panel includes four Test-capped players, three who saw action against the Māori All Blacks, and a number of players who featured for the Ireland Under-20s in recent seasons, including 2022 U-20 Grand Slam winners James Culhane and Chay Mullins.

These are the first fixtures for an Emerging Ireland side since the Tbilisi Cup back in 2015, with Easterby hoping those selected can make the most out of the tour and press their claims for further involvement in November and beyond.

“I guess to put it in context, and the year that presents itself leading to the Rugby World Cup, we know that we have a real good, strong core group of players that’s been with us for a number of years,” said Easterby.

“But, we have to try and grow the depth and look further into the talent pool, in terms of our squad going forward.

“This is a real opportunity to build some continuity for some of those players that would have been with us in New Zealand during the Māori games and spent time with us in the environment there.

“But, also bring back a few players who have been out of the system for a while due to injury or form, and also look at some of the depth in positions that we need to fulfil a World Cup year.”

Ulster’s Robert Baloucoune and Cormac Izuchukwu are both back from injury, as is Munster’s highly-rated back rower John Hodnett, while promising young tightheads Tom Clarkson, Roman Salanoa (pictured above) and Sam Illo will travel.

This week’s announcement that an Ireland ‘A’ team will take on an All Blacks XV in November should give an added incentive to the South Africa-bound group, who will first come together for a three-day camp at the IRFU High Performance Centre next week.

Easterby explained: “We know 33 players will go to the World Cup, but we all know that that number needs to be higher and we need to have a larger pool of players at our disposal.

“To do that and effectively have that number of players, we need to spend more time with players and get to know players, connect with players.

“That’s why there’s a good cross-section of players that have got a few caps, players that have spent time in the environment recently, but also players who won’t have had any time in the environment.

“That gives us an opportunity to expose them to what we’re trying to do as a team, and for us as coaches in particular, to connect with those players and get to know them a bit better in what will be a really challenging year.”

The Toyota Challenge, which will see Emerging Ireland play three times in nine days, beginning on Friday, September 30, is happening at the same time as some of the early rounds of the BKT United Rugby Championship.

Among those matches are interprovincial derbies in both Belfast and Galway, but Easterby said that there has been plenty of communication and hard work going on behind the scenes to ensure that both provincial and national needs are met.

“There’s been dialogue right through with Andy (Farrell) and the provincial coaches, in particular, discussing players, discussing their needs, our needs,” acknowledged the former Ireland and Lions flanker.

“There’s been compromises, there will be some selections that the province will feel that they’d be better served with them, but there’s also players that we feel would be better served, at this moment in time, exposing them to our environment.

“Looking at the bigger picture, the short to longer term is that this year presents itself with not just the three games in South Africa, there’s an Ireland ‘A’ game against a New Zealand XV in the autumn, there’s three Tests in the autumn, there’s the Six Nations and then there’s the pre-World Cup.

“So there’s not that many opportunities to expose players to the environment and find out a little more about certain players.

“With that in mind, we also have to feel like we’re not ripping the heart out of the provinces and taking too many players in one position.

“I’m sure there will be discussions along the way, injuries will inevitably happen throughout the next couple of weeks. We have to be prepared to be flexible and compromise as the provinces have in allowing us to select this team.”

Ireland head coach Farrell will be involved in the preparatory camp at the IRFU HPC, but will not be travelling to South Africa as he remains busy focusing on the November internationals and Rugby World Cup matters.

Easterby, who will be supported by fellow national coaches Paul O’Connell, Mike Catt and John Fogarty, said that Farrell will be ‘getting around and staying connected’ with the other Ireland players who will be returning for their provinces in the coming weeks.

“The timing of the tour coincides with a lot of players returning from their national break, the international players,” he added.

“So, player management and welfare has been at the forefront of a lot of what we’ve been talking about and understanding that, yes, we’re taking players out of the provincial system, but there will also be players re-entering their system at the same time as when we travel.

“To build depth we need time with the players, we need to find out a little bit more about them, about their personalities.

“We need to find out about how do they adapt to international rugby or at least adapt to situations where we’ve only got three or four training sessions to prepare for a game.”

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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Emerging Ireland Squad Named For Toyota Challenge In Bloemfontein

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The Ireland coaching group have named the 35 man squad that will travel to South Africa in late September to play in the Toyota Challenge. The Emerging Ireland panel will have a three day camp in the IRFU’s High Performance Centre in Dublin before flying to Bloemfontein to play against three Currie Cup sides – the Griquas, Pumas and Cheetahs.

The squad contains four capped players – Robert Baloucoune (2 caps), Caolin Blade (1 cap), Shane Daly (2 caps) and Max Deegan (1 cap) – and three players who featured against the Māori All Blacks during the summer: Ciaran Frawley, Joe McCarthy and Cian Prendergast.  

Jamie Osborne and Tom Ahern have both trained with the senior Ireland squad as development players.

Eight players featured in the Ireland U20 side that won a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2019 – Tom Clarkson, Brian Deeny, Jake Flannery, John Hodnett, Michael Milne, Scott Penny, Callum Reid and Dylan Tierney-Martin. 

2022 U20 Six Nations Grand Slam winners James Culhane and Chay Mullins are included. James was named U20 Player of the Tournament while Chay has gone on to win a bronze medal at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Cape Town.

Andrew Smith also played for Ireland 7s in last weekend’s Rugby World Cup Sevens in South Africa. The former Ireland U20 has played in seven World Series tournaments and won an Energia AIL title with Clontarf this year.

Harry McNulty and Andrew Smith 11/09/2022

 Ireland’s Andrew Smith in action at the Rugby World Cup 7s in Cape Town Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Travis Prior

David Nucifora, IRFU Performance Director, commented:

“This Emerging Ireland tour is of vital strategic importance in a Rugby World Cup year. It will put some stress on our player resources but it will provide an opportunity for emerging talent to impress the national coaches early in a World Cup season. As these players return to their provinces their progress can be monitored and supported so that they remain part of the national team picture.

The three games in Bloemfontein and the game against the All Blacks XV in Dublin provide an incredible opportunity for these players to gain experience in the national environment and force their way into the coaches’ thinking for the season ahead.”

Andy Farrell, Ireland Head Coach, commented: “This opportunity provides another window for players to develop and show they can thrive in the intensity of a national environment. It will be exciting to see which players step up and put themselves in the frame for a further opportunity to impress in November.

“For some players it is an opportunity to build on what they have already learned in national camp and take their development to the next level, for others it is a first opportunity to show the national coaches what they are about and what they can deliver.”

Simon Easterby, Emerging Ireland Head Coach, commented: “The coaching group are really excited about working with this squad and broadening the selection pool for the national team.

“We will look to replicate the national team environment and training intensity, so players get a good understanding of what it takes to perform at the highest level. The players will have to adapt to the national team’s tactical and technical approach in a very short window of time and deal with the pressure of performing in a green jersey.”

Emerging Ireland Squad – Toyota Challenge 2022

Backs (15)

Robert Baloucoune (Ulster/Enniskillen)*
Caolin Blade (Connacht/Galwegians)*
Jack Crowley (Munster/Cork Constitution)
Shane Daly (Munster/Cork Constitution)*
Nathan Doak (Ulster/Banbridge)
Jake Flannery (Ulster/Shannon)
Antoine Frisch (Munster)
Ciaran Frawley (Leinster/UCD)
Michael McDonald (Ulster)
Ethan McIlroy (Ulster/Queens RFC)
Stewart Moore (Ulster/Malone)
Chay Mullins (Connacht/IQ Rugby)
Calvin Nash (Munster/Young Munster)
Jamie Osbourne (Leinster/Naas)
Andrew Smith (Leinster/Clontarf)

Forwards (20)

Tom Ahern (Munster/Shannon)
Diarmuid Barron (Munster/Garryowen)
Tom Clarkson (Leinster/Dublin University)
James Culhane (Leinster/UCD)
Max Deegan (Leinster/Lansdowne)*
Brian Deeny (Leinster/Clontarf)
John Hodnett (Munster/UCC)
Sam Illo (Connacht)
Cormac Izuchukwu (Ulster/Ballynahinch)
Alex Kendellen (Munster/UCC)
Joe McCarthy (Leinster/Dublin University)
Michael Milne (Leinster/UCD)
Scott Penny (Leinster/UCD)
Cian Prendergast (Connacht)
Callum Reid (Ulster/Banbridge)
Roman Salonoa (Munster/Shannon)
Alex Soroka (Leinster/Clontarf)
Tom Stewart (Ulster/Ballynahinch)
Dylan Tierney-Martin (Connacht/Corinthians)
Josh Wycherley (Munster/Young Munster)

*Capped For Ireland

Emerging Ireland Toyota Challenge Fixtures 2022

Windhoek Draught Griquas vs Emerging Ireland
Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Friday 30th September 2022, KO 12:45 (Irish time)

Airlink Pumas vs Emerging Ireland
Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Wednesday 5th October 2022, KO 16:00 (Irish time)

Toyota Cheetahs vs Emerging Ireland
Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Sunday 9th October 2022, KO 12:00 (Irish time)

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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