The Ireland Men's Sevens squad were crowned Cup champions at their very first Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series tournament in Moscow, triumphing 12-0 over Spain in a tightly-contested final today.
The Moscow 7s title gives the Ireland Men's Sevens programme a big boost, with Anthony Eddy's young side making an immediate impact in the top flight of European Sevens - two years on from winning the Division C and B competitions and a year on from their European Trophy success.
Ireland also outfought the Russians in their semi-final clash, emerging as 28-21 winners thanks to tries from Keenan, McNulty, who ran in a lung-bursting effort from just outside his 22, Timoney and Fitzpatrick who touched down from a splendid offload by McNulty. Dardis nailed all four conversions, including two from the touchline.
Former Leinster and Connacht winger Fionn Carr impressed in Ireland's final two games. It was his break from halfway that set the tone against Russia, Timoney carrying hard up to five metres out before Terry Kennedy's pass sent Keenan over out wide in the second minute.
Pressure in the tackle from Kennedy led to a turnover and McNulty had the pace to go all the way to the line, cutting inside the covering Igor Galinovskiy and evading Vladimir Ostroushko's despairing tackle for a fine individual score converted by Dardis.
Roman Roshchin converted his own try to get Russia on the board with just over a minute to play in the opening half. Nonetheless, Ireland took a 21-7 lead into the break after Dardis drew a defender and released Timoney from halfway and the Ulster Academy player outpaced Galinovskiy to the line.
The second half was just a minute-and-a-half old when McNulty outfoxed two Russian players, shipping a tackle and supplying a brilliant offload out the backdoor for the supporting Fitzpatrick to dot down from a few metres out. Dardis drilled over the extras for a 21-point margin.
UCD clubman McNulty had a huge tournament overall, finishing as Ireland's top scorer with six tries - averaging one per game - and making some crucial plays in both defence and attack.
Roared on by the partisan home crowd, Russia got right back into contention at 28-21 down with two minutes still to play. Vladislav Lazarenko had enough of a headstart on the retreating Kennedy for their second try, and then Galinovskiy shrugged off the challenges of McNulty and O'Donnell to run in from the 10-metre line.
In between those scores, Mick McGrath was a pass away from sending Jimmy O'Brien through for a fifth Irish try, but the 28 points proved enough as the men in green kept a stranglehold of both possession and territory late on.
Spain, who recently qualified for next year's World Sevens Series and played in last summer's Olympics in Rio, were Ireland's opponents in the Moscow decider. A try in each half from Carr, who impressed in the final two games, and Fitzpatrick - allied to a terrific defensive display - saw Eddy's charges prevail on a 12-0 scoreline.
Ireland's defence stood up to a three-minute onslaught from the Spanish, with Keenan, Fitzpatrick, McNulty and Conroy all making crucial interventions. Fitzpatrick won a ruck penalty past halfway in the fourth minute, and the series newcomers were clinical thereafter, Conroy getting his hands free in a double tackle to put Carr darting in from the left wing for his converted try.
Carr was proving Ireland's most dangerous runner in the final, but Spain went close to scoring early on the restart with only a knock-on denying them a few metres out. Dardis went off with an injury and was replaced by Lansdowne's Mark Roche.
Carr and Roche both made good metres to get Ireland well away from their own whitewash, and then McNulty spotted a gap near halfway, pinned his ears back and passed out of the tackle for Fitzpatrick, who ran a great support line to cross wide on the left. Roche was narrowly wide with his conversion attempt.
Ireland were terrier-like in defence, Conroy and McNulty both driving players into touch to thwart decent Spanish attacks. Time was not on Spain's side and O'Brien's well-timed tackle dislodged the ball entering the final minute before O'Donnell and Roche led a kick chase downfield. It was fitting that it was the ever-influential McNulty who won a ruck penalty and the final lineout to close out a memorable victory.
The young Irish squad, which includes eight players aged between 20 and 23, were delighted to make a title-winning Grand Prix Series debut, with 22-year-old skipper Dardis lifting the Moscow 7s Cup after the presentation of the gold medals.
Finishing top of the pile in the Russian capital, and claiming some notable scalps along the way, is a serious statement of intent from the Ireland Sevens set-up as they target the same Hong Kong route that Spain took to World Series qualification.
The 2017 Grand Prix Series offers Ireland the opportunity to qualify for the World Sevens Series Repechage next season in Hong Kong, as well as the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament in San Francisco next summer.
The European Series, which continues next weekend in Lodz, Poland, has the carrot of two RWC Sevens places for nations outside of those who are already pre-qualified from the 2013 Moscow World Cup or via this season's World Series. The European sides who have already qualified for San Francisco are England, Wales, France and Scotland.
Russia are the only European team in the Grand Prix Series who are outside of automatic qualification, so they, along with the likes of Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Georgia, look set to be Ireland's main competition for the top two places.
Ireland are the early pace-setters in the Grand Prix Series, picking up 20 series points for their Moscow triumph. They will have Germany, Poland and Portugal for company in Pool A next Saturday in Lodz.
FULL VIDEO REPLAY - CUP FINAL: IRELAND 12 SPAIN 0 by Rugby Europe
IRELAND MEN'S SEVENS Squad (2017 Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series - Round 1, Oktyabr Stadium, Moscow, Russia, Saturday, June 3-Sunday, June 4):
Fionn Carr (Naas)
Jordan Conroy (Buccaneers)
Billy Dardis (UCD) (capt)
Ian Fitzpatrick (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Hugo Keenan (UCD/Leinster)
Terry Kennedy (St. Mary's College/Leinster)
Mick McGrath (Clontarf)
Harry McNulty (UCD)
Jimmy O'Brien (UCD/Leinster)
John O'Donnell (Lansdowne)
Mark Roche (Lansdowne)
Nick Timoney (Queen's University/Ulster)
IRELAND MEN'S SEVENS Results -
Saturday, June 3 - Pool A:
Wales 5 Ireland 26, Oktyabr Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Hugo Keenan 2, Terry Kennedy 2; Cons: Billy Dardis 3
Team: Nick Timoney, Ian Fitzpatrick, Harry McNulty, Billy Dardis (capt), Hugo Keenan, Terry Kennedy, Jordan Conroy.
Subs used: John O'Donnell, Fionn Carr, Mick McGrath. Not used: Mark Roche, Jimmy O'Brien.
Germany 28 Ireland 21, Oktyabr Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Harry McNulty, Ian Fitzpatrick, Nick Timoney; Cons: Billy Dardis, Mark Roche 2
Team: John O'Donnell, Ian Fitzpatrick, Harry McNulty, Billy Dardis (capt), Hugo Keenan, Terry Kennedy, Jordan Conroy.
Subs used: Nick Timoney, Fionn Carr, Mark Roche, Jimmy O'Brien, Mick McGrath.
Georgia 14 Ireland 19, Oktyabr Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Harry McNulty 2, Jordan Conroy; Cons: Mark Roche 2
Team: Nick Timoney, Harry McNulty (capt), Fionn Carr, Mark Roche, Hugo Keenan, Jimmy O'Brien, Jordan Conroy.
Subs used: John O'Donnell, Ian Fitzpatrick, Billy Dardis, Terry Kennedy, Mick McGrath.
Sunday, June 4:
Cup Quarter-Final: Portugal 17 Ireland 19, Oktyabr Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Harry McNulty 2, Ian Fitzpatrick; Cons: Billy Dardis 2
Team: Nick Timoney, Ian Fitzpatrick, Harry McNulty, Billy Dardis (capt), Hugo Keenan, Jimmy O'Brien, Jordan Conroy.
Subs used: John O'Donnell, Mark Roche, Mick McGrath. Not used: Fionn Carr, Terry Kennedy.
Cup Semi-Final: Russia 21 Ireland 28, Oktyabr Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Hugo Keenan, Harry McNulty, Nick Timoney, Ian Fitzpatrick; Cons: Billy Dardis 4
Team: Nick Timoney, Ian Fitzpatrick, Harry McNulty, Fionn Carr, Billy Dardis (capt), Hugo Keenan, Terry Kennedy.
Subs used: John O'Donnell, Jimmy O'Brien, Jordan Conroy, Mick McGrath. Not used: Mark Roche.
Cup Final: Ireland 12 Spain 0, Oktyabr Stadium
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Fionn Carr, Ian Fitzpatrick; Con: Billy Dardis
Team: Nick Timoney, Ian Fitzpatrick, Harry McNulty, Fionn Carr, Billy Dardis (capt), Hugo Keenan, Jordan Conroy.
Subs used: John O'Donnell, Mark Roche, Jimmy O'Brien, Terry Kennedy, Mick McGrath.