It’s been a long 12 months for Ireland as they returned to the same venue to right the wrongs of last year’s heartbreak to clinch their spot on next season’s World Sevens Series circuit.
This time last year, Ireland suffered a 12-7 defeat to Japan at the semi-final stage of the Hong Kong 7s qualifying event. Japan scored a try in the last play of the game which meant that Anthony Eddy’s side had to wait another 12 months in order to achieve their dream.
In the intervening months, Ireland have been riding the crest of a wave as they performed very well among the world’s best as an invitational side at World Series events in addition to the World Cup which was held in San Francisco’s AT&T Park where they secured the Challenge Cup.
However, this weekend’s tournament in Hong Kong has long been the number one target as Ireland beat the hosts on Sunday in the final 28-7 after overcoming Germany in a much tighter match 19-10 in the semi-final.
“It feels great actually,” Anthony Eddy said after the game.
“We had a go last year and we didn’t quite make it, we just missed out. So the boys have worked really hard for the past 12 months. I think they thoroughly deserved their victory and a spot on the World Series.”
Ireland didn’t have it all their own way throughout this three-day tournament. Uruguay clinched a draw against Ireland during the pool stages while the squad were also hampered by illness and injury which meant that they only had 10 players available to them for the final two days of action.
“I think we just regrouped. We’re a tight group. We probably let ourselves down a little bit in that game [Uruguay]. Also, lost a couple of boys during the week with injury. 10 players toughed it out for the last two days. They look after each other, they work hard for each other. They’re a good bunch of friends. They played well yesterday and played really well today as well.”
Mark Roche has been involved in the IRFU’s Sevens programme since the very beginning as they worked their way up through the doldrums of European Sevens to reach the promised land four years later.
“There’s been an incredible amount of work gone in,” Roche said.
“Four years of just going from the bottom, Division C, all the way up from Europe and then the heartbreak last year. Just to bounce back from that, that just shows the level of commitment that we had and the hard work that we put in.”
“It means absolutely everything. We’re full time, we’re going into a series with 10 tournaments. It’s where we want to be. We want to go there and compete. We don’t want to be a passenger in the series. We want to go out and win as much as we can.”
Looking back on last year’s disappointment, Roche says there were a lot of “learnings” taken from that heartbreaking defeat to Japan.
“I think it was a lot of learnings. Not to take anything for granted. You slip off and it’s curtains there. We got lucky in a couple of games this tournament but that’s what happens. A bounce of the ball goes your way unlike last year when it didn’t. It did this year and we fully deserved it so I’m delighted.”
There is still plenty for Ireland to achieve before they start their first World Series campaign.
They have an opportunity to show the rest of the top nations what is to come as they take part as an invitational side at the London and Paris legs later this year and more importantly, qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics also ramps up.
“We’ll definitely target London and Paris, they’re two great tournaments,” Eddy said.
“Close to home as well which makes things better. Also, we’ve got Olympic qualification for Rugby Europe after those tournaments so we’ll use those tournaments as good preparation for Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualification process.”