Ruddock's current crop keen to follow vaunted path of U-20 heroes
Published 01/02/2013 | 05:00
AS part of their preparations for the coming campaign, Ireland's U-20s were shown videos of last year's historic season.
There was plenty to savour. A first success on French soil at the grade in the Six Nations was followed by a fifth-place finish at the Junior World Championship that included wins over England (the side that denied them a Grand Slam), France (again) and hosts South Africa.
They'd have watched the likes of Iain Henderson, who spent the last week training with the senior side in Carton House. JJ Hanrahan earned a player of the tournament nomination and has since played in the Pro12. Kieran Marmion got in as Connacht's No 9 this season and hasn't looked back.
The message is – the next few weeks offer considerable opportunities.
"The first camp we brought the guys in we showed them some footage of the 20s guys last year," coach Mike Ruddock said yesterday.
"These are the shoes they have got to fill and they are pretty big shoes. There is no guarantee they will be able to fill them but that's the expectation."
Even Ruddock's considerable skills as a coach will be stretched if Ireland are to live up to that standard. Injuries have also played their part while Ireland's most recognisable player at the age grade – Robbie Henshaw – is unavailable for this game, though he could feature against England next week.
It means others have been fast-tracked. Munster's Darren Sweetnam, who only recently opted to concentrate on rugby instead of hurling with Cork, is on the bench. Alexander O'Meara makes his representative bow on the wing.
In fact, just two of the match-day squad – scrum-half Luke McGrath and stand-in full-back Stuart Olding – played at this grade last season.
McGrath was behind Marmion last year and is fourth in line at Leinster where Eoin Reddan, Isaac Boss and John Cooney stand in his way. But big things are expected of the UCD clubman, who played a hero's part against Wales last year as he was sprung from the bench to kick a decisive drop-goal.
"It's important I bring some experience into it," said McGrath. "We did so well in the World Championships and we just missed out on the Grand Slam in the Six Nations so we have to learn from those losses. It's important to bring that belief back into this team."
Ireland – S Olding; A O'Meara, T Daly, R Scannell, R Scholes; S Crosbie, L McGrath (capt); B Scott, G McGuigan, Chris Taylor; J Donnan, G Thornbury; P Timmins, R Murphy, C Joyce. Reps: J Andrew, P Dooley, J Caulfield, S McCarthy, J Van Der Flier, J Creighton, D Sweetnam, D Panther.
WALES – D Jones; A Evans, C Allen, S Hughes, A Hewitt; S Davies, R Williams; N Smith, E Dee, N Thomas, C Jones, Rhodri Hughes, S Bennett, D Thomas, E Jenkins (capt). Reps: E Lewis, G Thomas, D Suter, J Jones, J Benjamin, J Davies, E Davies, T Pascoe.
Wales U-20 v Ireland U-20,
Live, RTE2, 7.10