Ducking but no diving, rolling out of the tackle, looking for the offload, players pitting themselves one on one, trying to wrong-foot the opposition by dummying, feinting, then accelerating through a gap, 7s is a great game for teaching awareness of space, where the ability to turn on a sixpence and change the point of attack can yield great dividends. Running good support lines, having the guts to back yourself in tight situations and of course pace to burn are all suited to 7s while excellent teamwork and communication skills are even more essential as players need to trust their team-mates and work well together both in attack and defence or they will be exposed. There is no hiding space around rucks or anywhere on the full size pitch! The ability to kick drop-goal conversions from any angle is also a very handy skill and was a key factor in determining the tighter games at the Limerick 7s competition in Thomond park. Munster in their first game against the Canadian Maples lost by 2 points and indeed the final game in their pool sealed victory for the Maples when a draw looked likely thanks to an excellent difficult conversion by the Maples to edge out the Samurai. Similarly a difficult conversion in the last kick of Munster’s encounter with the same Samurai resulted in that game being drawn. On such margins are seedings for day 2 determined.
There were plenty of tries to enjoy in all the games on day 1, although some encounters were very one sided such as the Samurai v San Francisco (40-0) and defending champions Daveta v Leinster (45-0) while Connacht also put a large score on Ulster in their opening game (36-10). It was a pity that there were not larger crowds there to enjoy the spectacle and to see the skill-levels on display. The PA system boomed out music to celebrate each try. I wonder if it was a random selection or if they quickly decided which to play to suit the score including songs like “Don’t stop me now” which seemed particularly well suited to a breakaway try from distance!
Due to the IRFU putting a 7s team together to aim for the Olympics I was a lot more knowledgeable about the game than last year when I also went to the Limerick 7s competition. However, watching it on TV or a live stream from the road to Rio qualifiers does not give you the same sense of speed and scale of the game – how much ground the players cover and their pace both in scoring and in chasing back to try to prevent a breakaway score or at least to cut off the angle to make the conversion more difficult. Speed and fitness are key as the pace of the game is relentless, with most penalties taken as a quick tap and go, similarly lineouts were often taken quickly but it is interesting to see a 3 man lineout due to the acres of space it leaves on the field for the other players to attack or defend. Scrums were rarely if ever reset unlike the 15s game and the conversions are as I mentioned a drop kick so no delay waiting for the kicking tee to be brought out. The players barely get a breather throughout the 7 minutes a side so tactical decisions regarding substitutions can have a large bearing on the outcome.
I also noticed how some teams varied the tactics for their restarts, some went deep, others high to allow their own chaser to challenge while there were also a few which were more of a grubber kick through.
It was great to have all four Irish provinces represented this year and also to feature players who had done well in the qualification tournaments this summer for Rio including captain Alex Wootton, Cian Aherne and Alan Bennie for Munster. I was delighted to see Diarmuid McCarthy score as he had impressed for Munster A in their game against Ulster Ravens in Naas a few months ago. He scored in the first and second pool games before going off injured, hopefully it is not too serious.
In the second half Tomas Quinlan, fresh into the Munster academy after his experiences at the Junior Rugby World Cup during the summer scored their next try after a good break by Ollie Lyons.
It looked like Munster would go down 19-10 as the Maples had scored 3 tries but a penalty at the end gave possession to Munster and they worked hard to get a third try which was finished off by Steven McMahon and converted by Alex Wootton to bring the final score to 19 – 17.
Next up Munster took on the Samurai team which was full of confidence after their huge win by 40-0 in their opening encounter but this game resulted in a draw. McCarthy again scored but picked up an injury and could not continue. The second Munster try involved a wonderful poach of a lineout when the Samurai had won a penalty and opted to kick for touch. Lyons secured the ball and the five points.
Munster’s third try of the game again featured Cian Aherne who made a great break from deep in his own half to cross unopposed and more importantly make the conversion easier for Ryan Foley. However the Samurai scored at the death and even managed the conversion from the wing to claim a draw.
The bonus point secured in their final pool game thanks to scoring 4 tries (Alan Bennie, Steven McMahon x 2 and Cian Aherne) ensured Munster qualified for the quarter-finals. Crucially all 4 tries were converted giving them a 28-22 victory over San Francisco.
It was interesting to read in his interview on MunsterRugby.ie the thoughts of the 7s coach Colm McMahon: “The lesson from last year was that we performed very well on Day One, however when it came to the Cup rugby on Day Two other teams were that bit more streetwise – they held a little in reserve and were really up for it. That experience from last year will help us” so it will be interesting to see how things go on Day 2 this year. Facing Daveta in the quarter-final is a daunting prospect
Thanks to the Limerick 7s organisers for providing me with media accreditation for the weekend. It was an interesting experience and I will write about it (and the 15s game against Connacht) tomorrow. It was a pity that the team sheets were not available at the start as it was hard to see who had scored or to identify candidates from across the 12 teams for outstanding player nominations. It would be great if the PA announcer could advise who had scored although it may be a challenge pronouncing some of the names.
I have saved more photos on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/wtview and will add more later today so if you are on Facebook be sure to “like” the page!