RUGBY COLUMN – JULY 17
By Daire Walsh
IT promises to be a hectic weekend for Kildare duo Billy Dardis and Jimmy O’Brien – who have been selected in the Ireland men’s squad for the Rugby World Cup sevens at the AT & T Arena in San Francisco.
Following their absence from the 2013 competition, the Green Army will be aiming to make a serious statement of intent in the US city. After a respectable seventh-place finish five years ago, the women’s side will also return to the global stage for a Round of 16 affair with England on Friday.
Taking place over just three days – at the home of the famed San Francisco Giants baseball team – there is very little room for errors in both Irish camps. While the women’s selection face a tough encounter against their overseas rivals, their male counterparts are expected to negotiate their way past Chile in a Pre-Round of 16 showdown.
The reward for the winner of that clash is a tantalising meeting with South Africa (who finished as runners-up in the 1997 World Cup), with the loser entering the Bowl section of the competition.
Though there is also a Challenge place on offer for those that come off second best in the last-16 of the Championship, a straight knockout format means teams can’t afford any slip ups if they have designs on securing the coveted world titles.
In the 12 months since he left Leinster without a single senior cap to his name, Dardis has thrived on the sevens circuit. Although he had already been part of the squad for their unsuccessful bid at qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janiero, the Naas man in now fully at ease within Anthony Eddy’s set-up.
Before playing Leinster Senior Cup rugby with south Dublin nursery Terenure College, Dardis displayed initial promise in the black and white of his local school – Newbridge College. This is the same alma mater that has produced the aforementioned O’Brien, who is still an active member of the Leinster Academy.
Still only 21, the Eadestown native came to prominence on a national level as part of the Ireland U20s side that reached the World Championship decider two years ago. He has been an active member of the Sevens programme in the build-up to this tournament and is expected to bring a youthful exuberance to their expansive back play.
Dardis and O’Brien are currently team-mates in the capital with UCD, and they are joined in the Sevens squad by fellow Students Hugo Keenan and Harry McNulty. Their game against Chile gets underway at 3.35pm local time (11.35pm Irish time) on Friday.
Bringing a sense of calm to the women’s side will be Lucy Mulhall – a former All-Ireland junior football winner with her native Wicklow. Alongside her are the Leinster quintet of Kathy Baker, Katie Fitzhenry, Eve Higgins, Stacey Flood and Hannah Tyrrell, who will need to produce big performances if they are to overcome the challenge of England on Friday (12.12pm local time/8.12pm Irish time).