Ruddock rings changes as he builds towards World Cup
MIKE RUDDOCK and Ireland's U-20 team have the summer's Junior World Cup on their mind as they take on Italy in Avezzano tonight (6.0).
With both Australia and New Zealand in their pool for the June tournament in France, Ireland's hopes of repeating their exploits in Cape Town last summer look remote, but after a middling Six Nations the coach will be looking for his troops to perform better in the summer.
Ireland have been a mixed bag in their annual spring outing this year, but with the Pro12 ongoing throughout the tournament each season, success in this tournament is unlikely to be achieved in the future.
That means the JWC should be Ruddock's focus and he has admitted that he changed things up on his bench tonight with a view to trying new combinations for France.
"We are obviously looking to build on our win from last week to take us through into the IRB Junior World Championship," the former Wales coach said.
"We have added some new combinations to the bench as we look towards the summer."
Ruddock may not be with them this summer as speculation mounts that he will be in charge of the senior side in the event that Declan Kidney departs, but he knows that this Six Nations is his shop window and will want to finish as high up the table as possible.
Ireland sit in third, two points behind England, who face leaders Wales this weekend. Ireland's points difference is far inferior to the English, but finishing level on points would be a decent return.
Ruddock is shorn of star man Stuart Olding, who is with Ulster, so Connacht's Darragh Leader comes in at full-back, while former Cork hurler Darren Sweetnam starts on the right wing in place of David Panther, who drops to the bench.
Worcester prop forward Ryan Furniss and Ulster hooker John Andrew come in to the front-row, while Shannon man Sean McCarthy replaces Gavin Thornbury in the second-row.
The coach is expecting a physical test, but the reality is that Ireland have never lost to Italy at this level and the Italians have not won in this Six Nations campaign.
So, this should be a straightforward evening for the Irish, who have struggled away from their Athlone home in the Six Nations for more than a year.
ITALY – A Esposito; DM Odiete, M Campagnaro, A Bettin, F Guarducci; E Padovani, M Violi; L Scarsini, A Moriconi, T Pasquali; A Zdrilich, M Andreotti; A Trotta, V Marazzi, M Mbanda. Reps: L Conti, C Traore, R Biancotti, G Riedo, G Vian, S Marinaro, F Buscema, G Benvenuti.
IRELAND – D Leader; D Sweetnam, T Daly, R Scannell, R Scholes; S Crosbie, L McGrath; P Dooley, J Andrew, R Furness; S McCarthy, J Donnan; C Joyce, J Van Der Flier, R Murphy. Reps: B Byrne, A Boland, B Scott, J Sexton, P Timmins, D Shanahan, E Quinn, D Panther.
REF – A Ruiz (France)