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Ireland Sevens captain Billy Dardis has waited a long time to lead his side out in search of Olympic qualification at the World Rugby Sevens repechage in Monaco.
On Saturday, the 26-year-old will do just that as Ireland face Zimbabwe, Mexico, and Tonga to kick off their final push for Tokyo 2020.
Dardis feels that the national sevens side has been growing and growing since their third-place finish at the Rugby Europe Sevens Olympic Qualifying tournament in Colomiers in 2019.
“Each tournament was building up to that qualifier in Monaco in June but that got pushed back and the whole world went on hold for a year and then this year has just been one long preseason,” said Dardis. “
We’ve been lucky enough to play against academies and [Great Britain] and at the moment we actually feel we are coming into it pretty nicely which is good, but it has been a long build-up to be fair.”
Dardis believes that he and his teammates were very lucky to have the Monaco Repechage to work towards over the last 18 months.
It motivated the former Leinster academy player to work hard during the lockdowns and keep his physical and mental wellbeing in check.
To have Olympic qualification in the back of his mind was a blessing.
“We have been building towards this for the last two years, and it was tough like. This time last year, we were in the middle of lockdowns, we were training by ourselves…driving yourself to a dark place every day by yourself can be really tough.”
Dardis and co. have been able to train together ahead of the repechage.
However, the former Newbridge and Terenure student has something unique to push him that bit further in training.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) June 15, 2021
The thought of captaining an Irish side to that goal made it even sweeter for the Ireland 7s veteran.
“To captain this team, to represent Irish rugby, Ireland on the biggest stage in the world, the chance to carry the hopes and dreams of a nation for a weekend, the chance to inspire a generation of kids for weekend….to be in that spotlight for a weekend would be absolutely incredible – it’s very motivating.”
Furthermore, Dardis has been here before with head coach Anthony Eddy in 2016.
Eddy’s 2016 side won their group that included 2020 opponents Zimbabwe, Tonga and Samoa but fell to Spain in the quarterfinals.
However, the national sevens side has reached new heights since then, most notably becoming a World Series core team in 2019.
Dardis thinks that the growth of the Irish sevens programme has been consistent in the last few years.
“I’ve been with the squad five years now and it has changed each year. There has been an influx of lads every season but each year players are getting better and better. But it has been quite a journey [from his first cap at Malmo to now].”
The Irish sevens captain would be overjoyed if that journey took him to Tokyo – “We are all best mates and we enjoy each other’s company…I think it’d be really special to go to the Olympics together.”