‘What they did was incredible’ - The Irish rugby team who achieved what Joe Schmidt's side haven't

By James O’Connor

An Irish tag-rugby team has achieved what Joe Schmidt and company have failed to achieve — win a World Cup.

The men’s 50s side defeated their Australian hosts in Coffs Harbour last weekend to land the coveted title.

And it wasn’t a once-off performance as the new champions had beaten New Zealand twice en route to the decider.

“The over 50s had the best week of their lives,” PRO Jack Leahy explained. “What they did was incredible, a real fairytale to become world champions at that age. It was one of only two categories that Australia lost in the whole tournament, and it shows what’s possible for the future.

We had former Leinster man Paul Clinch in the side. His son Charlie played on the men’s open team, but Paul definitely got one up by winning gold.

“Most of the over 50s side are living in Australia but we had two lads that went over from Ireland. The fact they bonded so well in such a short space of time was a credit to them all.”

It was not just the men’s 50s that impressed in the tournament, the Women’s 27s finished runners-up, the women’s open side claimed third while the remaining four teams reached quarter-finals.

Leahy revealed that the trip was self-funded.

“We went on a group flight to the tournament and had a week of high-intensity training with serious effort before the tournament, which paid off in abundance.

“Coffs Harbour is on the east coast too so acclimating to that weather was a challenge, but the training week proved so beneficial for stamina and team spirit.

“Everything was self-funded, so the travelling players had to come with somewhere between €3-5,000 to go, so all credit goes to them.

“The game is huge over there, I would compare it to having a GAA World Cup in Kerry for one week.

The passion they have is something else. They teach tag to five and six-year-olds, and by the time they’re 17 they have the skills and fitness of pro athletes. Australia lost only two categories, one to New Zealand, and one to us in the over 50s, so to be in a bracket with them is huge.

Leahy, though, takes this gulf in class as a positive, and something to reach for at the next World Cup in 2021.

“Our goal before the next World Cup is to start recruiting younger players and getting them involved at beginner level.

“The whole experience was absolutely amazing.”

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