MUNSTER made significant contributions to Ireland U18s winning silver medals at the recent European Sevens Championship in Poland.
They won five of their six games and reached the final, where holders France won a tight game by 21-17.
It continued Ireland’s impressive record in championships in this age-group and format, having been crowned champions in 2016, 2017 and 2019 and runners-up in 2018.
Mike Pettman, the New Zealand-born Munster Skills Coach, headed up the coaching ticket, which included Leinster’s Kieran Hurrell.
There were five Munster players in the 12-strong squad, including the PBC pair of Ben O’Connor, who was capped at U18 Schoolboy level, and Gene O’Leary-Kareem, as well as Jed O’Dwyer from Munster Schools Senior Cup champions, Crescent College Comprehensive, Jake O’Riordan from St Munchin’s and Stephen Kiely from Castletroy College.
O’Connor and O’Dwyer were opposing full-backs in the final, which Crescent won impressively by 26-5 with the Limerick school’s number 15 crossing for one of their four tries.
The rest of the Sevens squad comprised three Ulster players, including the captain Mark Lee, a couple from Leinster and two from the UK who are Irish qualified, Charlie Griffin (Harrow School) and Freddie Reader (Stonyhurst College).
Ireland were in Pool B along with Germany, Spain and the Ukraine and won all three games impressively, scoring some spectacular tries following exciting approach play.
They opened with a commanding 33-0 victory over the Germans after leading 21-0 at half-time, crossing five times with O’Leary-Kareem kicking four conversions.
Scrum-half O’Riordan helped himself to two of the tries and O’Connor another while Kiely ensured the starting seven contained four Munster players.
The other five members of the squad also got game time as Pettman and Hurrell ran their eyes over all 12 players who tasted international Sevens competition for the first time.
O’Leary-Kareem, who was part of the Pres squad which reached last season’s cup final, was the star of the show in the next game against the Spanish, Ireland winning 21-5 after being 14-0 in front at the break.
The Pres student bagged two of the three tries and slotted all three conversions for a personal haul of 16 points with captain Lee the other Ireland try scorer.
Considering what’s unfolding in their own country, it was extraordinary that the Ukraine competed at all.
Ireland duly triumphed 29-7, scoring five tries with O’Dwyer and Kiely scoring one apiece and O’Leary-Kareem increasing his tally to three and kicking two conversions, as well.
That sent Ireland through to the quarter-finals as group winners, where they again faced Germany, who emerged as the second best team in the section.
The Germans had the satisfaction of crossing the Irish line once, but a 25-5 victory left little room for argument as Ireland, who led 17-0 at the break, claimed four tries, one from O’Dwyer with O’Leary-Kareem and O’Connor landing a conversion apiece.
Portugal, who have developed a reputation at this level over the years, stood between Ireland and a place in the final and it proved a very competitive game.
The sides were level 5-5 at the interval before Ireland outscored the Portuguese two tries to one on the resumption.
But, it was a nail-biter as Portugal fought back to level matters at 12-12 three minutes from the end only for Ireland to score in the next attack for a hard-fought 19-12 win with O’Leary-Kareem kicking a couple of important conversions.
For the final, Ireland started with O’Leary-Kareem, O’Connor and O’Riordan and introduced Kiely from the bench.
However, it was the French who settled quicker, scoring a couple of early tries to lead 14-5 at half-time, Leinster’s Finn Treacy rounding off a brilliant move to score Ireland’s try.
And it got worse on the resumption as the French capitalised on an Irish mistake to counter-attack and cross for a third try to extend their lead to 16 points.
Ireland, though, fought back courageously with O’Connor heavily involved, first kicking through for Treacy to score his second try and then making it three tries apiece with his second of the tournament.
There was still time for one more play, but France earned a penalty to clinch the title.
O’Leary-Kareem finished with 45 points part of Ireland’s 144 points, which included 23 tries.