They are more than a little late to the party, but, after years of resistance from within, the IRFU has decided to introduce a men’s rugby sevens programme.
The move is the first significant act by the governing body’s new performance director, David Nucifora, who joined the IRFU from a similar role in Australia on a five-year contract last April, and announced the decision at the Aviva Stadium.
The move comes too late to realistically expect an Irish men’s team to qualify for the 2016 Olympics, when rugby sevens is introduced into the Summer Games schedule for the first time alongside golf. The programme will mean starting out at the lowest rung of the international sevens hierarchy but Nucifora is hopeful the foundation of a men’s programme will benefit participation numbers in Ireland and also offer a new pathway to the 15-player code with an increased skill set.
“We’ve entered a men’s team in the European championships in June, we’ll be starting in Division C,” Nucifora said. “We’re going right down the bottom and work our way up.
“For me, the sevens programme I see as being part of the development pathway. I think sevens is a wonderful game to be able to judge talent and give players an opportunity to play another form of the game that shows you different things about their strengths and weaknesses.
“The game of sevens has developed a lot over the last three-to-five years, it’s a very confrontational game now, so you quickly learn a lot about players, about whether they can tackle, whether they can carry… a lot of things about them that’s important to both forms of the game.
“We see it as a great opportunity to add to the pathway and give players the chance to be exposed in a different way.”
Nucifora said the men’s sevens programme would primarily draw its personnel from provincial academies and sub-academies as well as the club game.
“I’m conscious not to place an extra burden on any of the provincial teams, so the talent we are looking at here would primarily be academy, sub-academy and club players, giving players an opportunity to be jump into that player pathway and to be exposed to things.
“Hopefully, we’ll see players we haven’t seen before, they may very well end up players who are reintroduced to 15s rugby or they may be players who end up playing Sevens.
“I must stress that, because we’re starting in Division C, it will very much be a crawl before we walk-type scenario.
“We’ll build it so this year it will be based on those couple of tournaments that are available to us, a couple of warm-up tournaments and a couple of camps to be able to, once we have chosen the talent to go through.
“The preparation will be reasonably minimal, but hopefully this will be a starting point for us and we can build on it.”
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