Tag Archives: 7s

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For


Warwick in Munster colours versus Toulon in 2011. (c) Liam Coughlan.

It’s an oft-repeated mantra in rugby that talent alone won’t get you anywhere. Having had “everything at my feet at one point”, Paul Warwick was perhaps heading towards being living proof of that as he struggled to make an impact at the Queensland Reds a decade ago.

However, the chance of a move to Connacht in 2004 meant a working environment  which brought out the best in the Australian’s natural ability. A schoolboy, U21 and 7s international after converting from league at the age of 16, he admits he “didn’t make the most of my opportunities” at home. Removed from his comfort zone, Warwick has thrived in professional rugby since.

Three impressive seasons in the west of Ireland resulted in what looked like a dream move to Munster in 2007. While the following four years in Limerick involved a Heineken Cup medal and two Celtic League successes, it didn’t go completely to plan for a man who prefers to control his team’s attacking play from outhalf. With Ronan O’Gara the undisputed number one in that position there was definite frustration for Warwick:

“At Munster, I was in Ronan’s shadow and had to play at fullback, so the challenge for me was to get back to running things at outhalf.”

When Stade Francais came calling in 2011 it was time to move again, lured by the prospect of securing the outhalf position at the Parisian club. With cultural and language complications to consider, it wasn’t the easiest decision for Warwick and his family, but they have found it a rewarding experience:

“I’ve really enjoyed the different experience, for myself and the family. I mean we would have regretted it if we hadn’t taken the chance. Maybe we didn’t give it our best shot with the language side of things, but to say you’ve lived and played in Paris is pretty great.”

On the pitch, the change from Pro 12 to Top 14 took adjustment, with the week-to-week demands ramped up in France:

“The Top 14 has a lot more competitive teams. In the Pro 12, there are some games against the likes of the Dragons which maybe aren’t as demanding. The pride involved in home games makes it tough in France. Even when you go to a team like Agen, who were relegated this season, it’s a serious challenge with that pride on the line.”

Luke McAlister

Warwick at fullback for Stade versus Toulouse in the Top 14. (c) Pierre Selim.

So has the move away from Ireland given Warwick the on-pitch footballing control that he desired?

Last season, under Michael Chieka, he faced stiff competition from Felipe Contepomi for the 10 shirt and was moved to fullback in order that both players could be accommodated. This season, under new management fronted by Christophe Laussucq, the emergence of 21-year-old Jules Plisson has limited Warwick’s game time at outhalf. Overall, more frustration:

“I didn’t achieve what I wanted to achieve in Paris personally. This season’s been ups and downs really, for me and for the team. Overall, we’re happy with the Amlin, but disappointed with the Top 14. We didn’t achieve the goals we set out at the start of the season.”

Those goals included finishing in the top six of the French championship. 19 points adrift, Stade Francais ended up in 10th. Just two wins away from home was the main reason.

A switch to Aviva Premiership side Worcester Warriors is the next move for 32-year-old Warwick. Worcester may have finished 11th in the Premiership this season, but with Dean Ryan set to take over at the club, Warwick is feeling positive:

‘They haven’t had the best of seasons, but they’re a developing team. With Dean Ryan coming in that’s a big plus, he’s got proven success. I think all the ingredients are there. I’m coming into a club where I don’t really know a whole lot of guys, so it’s just refreshing to be able to start again.”

Another chance to start from scratch, another opportunity to take control at outhalf. Before that, there’s one final task with Stade Francais: the small matter of a European final against heavyweights Leinster.

Paul Warwick in full flight

Warwick in full flight versus the Ospreys during his time with Munster. (c) Ivan O’Riordan.

To be in a final at all came as a surprise to Warwick and his teammates. The Australian credits their European run to a recent change in attitude within the squad:

“It’s been unexpected. Our away form has been abysmal to say the least. But we went to Bath and Perpignan and came away with wins. The team is enjoying the footy we’re playing at the moment. There’s obviously lots of changes going on here, with the coaching team and everything, but we’re enjoying our footy. We’ll give it a real go.”

From Warwick’s point of view, it’s hard to pick out one area in which to target Leinster on Friday night. The focus instead will be on Stade’s own performance:

“Leinster have been the best team in Europe for a number of years, they really don’t have too many weaknesses. For us, the main thing is getting over the gain-line on first phase, putting them under pressure and asking questions of their defence. We have to match them at set-piece and then go from there. If we can do that, who knows?”

Warwick had settle for a place on the bench against Bath and Perpignan, and it looks likely that Plisson will be the man entrusted with the outhalf slot on Friday night. If things don’t go their way, Stade will call on Warwick’s flair and creativity. For himself and Stade, there is no fear in facing Leinster:

“Everyone wrote us off for the Bath and Perpignan matches and we went out and got the wins. We’re at a point where our attitude is that we’ve got nothing to lose, so let’s see what happens.”


Photos: Liam Coughlan, Pierre Selim, Ivan O’Riordan.

Women’s 7s Team Hit World Stage


Just 12 weeks after being assembled, the Irish Women’s 7s team have achieved their goal of qualification for the 2013 World Cup. For once, the IRFU took the initiative and they must be congratulated. However, the biggest plaudits should go to this talented group of players and their coach Jon Skurr. To have achieved such excellence in so short a time is nothing short of inspirational. In a season when Ireland’s senior men’s XV has failed to impress consistently, our female players and underage teams have provided much positivity.

An interprovincial blitz at the start of April was the beginning of the journey, allowing newly appointed Women’s Sevens Coach Jon Skurr to cast an eye over the talent available to him. Skurr led the Men’s Sevens Team to the 2009 World Cup in Dubai, a squad that included guys like Felix Jones, James Coughlan and Paul Marshall. Gemma Crowley was brought in as Manager, having performed the same role with the fifteen-a-side squad. Other staff, like Munster Academy S&C coach Ross Callaghan, were brought on board to provide their expertise.

Following that blitz trial, Skurr picked a squad of 21 players to move forward with. Each of the four provinces was represented, along with several Exiles. The entire process was well planned out, with a series of Sevens events targeted, building up to Moscow last weekend. The first tournament was the Kinsale Sevens on the first weekend of May. Under the team name Irish Lightning, an Irish squad of 13 players won the tournament, winning every single game and racking up some big scores. Importantly, a number of other players from the 21-woman squad played with other teams in Kinsale, picking up vital game time. A good start, but the standard would only increase.


That certainly proved to be the case at the Amsterdam Sevens two weeks later. Again, a squad of 13 was selected under the moniker Irish Lightning but the Irish had a difficult first day, losing to Canada and Spain. They picked things up for the final fixture of the day, beating France 19-12. That put Skurr’s side into the Plate competition the next day. A hard-fought win over Germany was followed by an excellent 26-0 victory over Wales. That earned them a 7th-placed final against France, where a Lynne Cantwell try made the difference in a 7-5 triumph.

Two tournaments down, and encouraging signs all round. The final preparation for the European qualifiers came the following weekend at the Rugby Rocks Sevens tournament in London. Irish Lightning‘s momentum continued to grow with wins over the Welsh and Austrian national teams before meeting Wooden Spoons in the final. One of the most successful women’s sevens teams around over the last two years, Wooden Spoons would have fancied their chances. But the Irish team’s swift development was evident as they won 26-14 and gave an impressive performance.

The speed at which the Irish team adapted to the sevens game is testament to the hard work of the players, as well as Skurr. Obviously, plenty of the 15-a-side international players would have played sevens before coming together, but the high level to which they so quickly developed is incredible. That development was clear at the first official FIRA/AER qualifying event in Ghent on the first weekend of June. Ireland came into the tournament knowing that they needed a top-two finish to advance to the second qualifying event in Moscow.


The manner in which they achieved that was nothing short of spectacular. The 13-woman squad won all six of their games without conceding a single point. No other team even got close to them as the Irish racked up an aggregate score of 249-0. A superb performance all round, but Skurr would have been keen to keep the players’ feet on the ground. The achievements in Ghent were highly encouraging, but the standard would of course step up another level in Moscow at this weekend’s qualifying event. Ireland would need a top five finish to guarantee qualification for the 2013 Sevens World Cup.

The Irish team got off to a strong start with a 17-5 win over Italy before a 14-12 loss to a strong Netherlands side. That made the final pool game against Switzerland a must-win, and Ireland bounced back in the best possible way with a 43-0 victory. That result ensured a place in the Cup/Plate quarter-finals and meant Skurr’s team were in the top eight at least. They were given a difficult draw against Russia, who were 3 wins from 3 at that point. The hosts proved too strong and Ireland went down 27-0.

All was not lost though. With Russia into the Cup semi-finals, it meant that a sixth-place finish for Ireland would be enough to earn World Cup qualification (Russia will host the World Cup, so they didn’t take one of the 5 qualifying spots). The Plate semi-final now became all or nothing for the Irish. Their determination was evident as they beat Ukraine 17-0 despite losing both Jennifer Murphy and Joy Neville to the sin bin for 2 minutes each. Another superb effort and World Cup qualification is secured. The measure of how far this squad has come is that they were probably disappointed to lose 31-7 to the Netherlands in the Plate final.


It’s a fantastic achievement and a real boost for those who believe that Sevens has been undervalued in Ireland in recent years. Having seen how hard several of this Irish Women’s Sevens squad train and work at their skills, I can’t say their success has come as a big surprise. These players give just as much time and effort as their male peers despite getting no monetary reward. This qualification is a celebration of playing for the joy of it and the love of representing Ireland.

Success brings support and I’m certain that this achievement will bring more interest to women’s rugby, both in sevens and the 15-woman code. The IRFU’s decision to back the Irish Women’s Sevens squad looks like it will pay off in a big way. We’re quick to criticise their failings, so we must credit this success. However, the major congratulations go to the women who made the difference on the pitch. Here’s hoping for much more success and support to come for women’s rugby in Ireland.