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Billy Dardis: Ireland would be crazy not to aim for an Olympic gold medal

Billy Dardis

Ireland rugby sevens captain Billy Dardis has confirmed that his side intend to go all the way at the Tokyo Olympics this month.

Dardis and his teammates qualified for the Olympics in last month’s repechage tournament in Monaco, seeing off favourites France in the final to secure their place in Tokyo.

The IRFU only set up a fully professional Irish sevens team in 2015, where the squad started out from the bottom of the European pyramid in Division C, but quickly progressed under head coach Anthony Eddy.

Ireland missed out on the chance to play at the first ever Olympic rugby sevens tournament in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, but they have improved significantly since then and will play against the best in the world in Tokyo in just a few weeks’ time.

While Ireland were the last team to qualify for this year’s Olympics, Dardis revealed that his side are aiming for the sport’s highest honour in Tokyo.

‘We’d be crazy not to be going over there wanting a gold medal.’

“Every athlete that goes to the Olympics, I think the only reason they’re there is because they strive to be the best at what they do,” Dardis said.

“Someone was saying to me the other day that you’re going to be going over there and rubbing shoulders with the elite of sport.

“And people don’t get to be the elite of sport without trying to be the absolute best. You have to be almost stubborn about it. That’s what we have to be.

“When we’re at our best it’s when we’re at our ruthless, clinical best. I think we’d be crazy not to be going over there wanting a gold medal.

“You go into every game wanting to win each game and if you win every game obviously you get a gold medal. That is the overall aim but, especially in sevens, you have to take it each day at a time and each game at a time.”

Billy Dardis

Billy Dardis on the importance of momentum in rugby sevens.

Rugby sevens can be a fickle sport, where the slightest mistake will be punished which in turn, could swing the momentum in one direction and end one side’s hopes of victory in just a few minutes.

In Ireland’s qualification final against France, Les Bleus had seemed to have stolen the momentum, as they scored two tries in quick succession to take a five-point lead into half time.

However, Ireland scored a quickfire double of their own through the electric Jordan Conroy in the second half, and after capitalising on a French mistake, Harry McNulty went over for their fourth try to put the result beyond doubt.

Dardis is acutely aware of just how quickly things can change in sevens, with head coach Anthony Eddy drilling the importance of every play into his players’ heads.

Billy Dardis: ‘Every little moment counts.’

“As I say to the lads before each game it literally comes down to every little moment. In sevens if you lose one moment the game can turn on its head. The momentum can turn and you can lose the run of play a little bit,” Dardis explained.

“In sevens every possession counts. That’s what Anthony [Eddy] would say to us. You might get four, maybe five possessions if you’re lucky in a half. You need to come away with points every time you have the ball.

“That’s what it all comes down to. You’ve got to win each moment, whether it’s winning a breakdown, whether it’s beating a guy, whether it’s making your one-on-one tackle. Every little moment counts.

“I think if everyone can win as many of those little moments as possible we’ll put ourselves in a good spot to come home with a medal. It’d be pretty huge to do something special like that.”

Billy Dardis on Ireland’s competitive edge.

Many of the world’s top teams have played very little competitive rugby in the last 16 months, as the World Rugby Sevens Series was halted in March 2020 due to the pandemic.

Since then the world’s top sides have competed in a few one-off warm-up events but of the teams at the Olympics, only Ireland have played in a do-or-die tournament since March of last year at the qualifying tournament last month.

Dardis believes this could be an advantage for Ireland in Tokyo, as they will be the only side to have experienced a high-pressure environment in over a year.

“I think the best way of looking at it for us is that we’ve experienced this high-pressure tournament only a matter of weeks ago,” Dardis commented.

‘The more games you play the more hardened you get.’

“That’s what I’ve been saying over the last couple of weeks – teams haven’t actually played any high-pressure, competitive tournament in the last 18, 19 months.

“They haven’t played at that competitive level where there’s just ultimate pressure. We played in that only a few weeks ago.

“The more of that you play, it’s a bit like test rugby, the more games you play the more hardened you get. You get into a rhythm, everyone gets used to the plays, you live off people’s body language.

“You build up links and connections on the pitch when there’s a lot of pressure on you.”

The men’s rugby sevens tournament at the Tokyo Olympics kicks off the 26th of July, where a champion will be crowned just two days later on the 28th.

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