In my day 7’s rugby was something you did before a barbecue, too many pints and a disco in a marquee at some club or other. It was a rare chance for us forwards to show our silky ball handling skills and our blistering speed, but, all in all, it was really just a way of killing time before the main event.
These days however, with Olympic qualification at stake, it’s all got rather serious, so serious that I spent a couple of weekends watching live feeds from Russia, France, Slovenia and Croatia as I followed the fortunes of the Ireland Men and Women’s Sevens sides in their quest for qualification for a trip to Rio 2016.
So far it’s all been rather easy for the recently formed Ireland Men’s team as they progressed serenely through the European C and European B competitions, winning both at a canter, but from here on in there is a huge jump in the standard and it all gets rather complicated with regards to Olympic qualification.
As it stands Ireland Men go forward to the European leg of the Olympic Repêchage in Lisbon, Portugal, this weekend. Here they will face teams from Georgia, Italy, Russia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Belgium, Poland, Portugal and Ukraine and all of the teams are currently ranked higher than Ireland. However, with Ireland Men winning European Rugby’s Divisions C and B so convincingly, they are genuine wildcard contenders and they do have an outside chance of getting into the top eight after day one and from there they could cause a few upsets.
Unfortunately, while no one will want to face Ireland in the knock out stages, I can only see Russia, Germany and Portugal going through to the Olympic World Repêchage next year, with a creditable 5th place Ireland’s best bet.
Ireland Women have been at the 7’s game a bit longer and way back in 2013, with a team laden with “Grand Slam” proven players, Olympic qualification looked like a given as the team qualified for the World Rugby Seven’s Series at the first time of asking. Fortunately, for Irish Women’s Rugby, the bulk of the players returned to the 15’s game for the 2014 World Cup but unfortunately, for the Women’s 7’s programme, the loss of such quality players saw the programme fall apart and the team were relegated from the World Series the following year.
A re-assessment of the management team has seen the Women’s team gradually rebuild with specialist sevens players now forming the bulk of the squad though they have pulled in tried and trusted 15’s players, in Jenny Murphy, Ashleigh Baxter, Claire Molloy and Alison Miller, for this qualification process.
The Women’s competition features teams from Denmark, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Romania, Ukraine, Finland, Italy, Netherlands and Sweden completing alongside Ireland, with Spain the only team ranked higher. I fully expect the Irish team to qualify for the Olympic World Repêchage next year, alongside Spain and the Netherlands, with Italy and, home side, Portugal being the outside contenders.
The tournament matches will be streamed live on www.rugbyeurope.eu/.
Pool games and Ireland squads are shown below.
Pool Fixtures[table id=7 /]
Ireland Squads[table id=6 /]
The Ulster players to look out for are Ashleigh Baxter (Cooke) in the Women’s Squad and David McGuigan and Aaron Cairns (both Ballynahinch) in the Men’s Squad.
Check out The Front Row Union – Sevens for all the latest Men’s and Women’s Sevens news.