Kidney throws Ruddock in at the deep end
IT'S a down day for the Irish rugby team and management and the collective intention is to pay a visit to Rotorua's famed thermal springs.
That will be a welcome chance to relax for the touring party who, between injuries, suspension and a record defeat to the All Blacks, have had plenty of reasons to be feeling tense on this trip.
Tomorrow it will be back to business as the final preparations begin for Friday night's clash with the New Zealand Maori, who are lining up the Irish as a fitting scalp for their centenary celebrations.
It is going to be a hell of an examination -- another one -- and coach Declan Kidney has selected a strong side in difficult circumstances, with only four non-capped players in his starting 15.
The selection nobody could have predicted a few days ago is Rhys Ruddock starting on the blind-side flank, completing a remarkable rise to prominence for the 19-year-old this season, who only flew in from his Ireland U-20 World Cup duties in Argentina on Monday. He now finds himself running out to face one of the most fearsome outfits in world rugby.
"I think physically he's good," said Kidney at yesterday's team announcement. "He had a game the previous Tuesday and the previous Saturday (for the U-20s), so he's in good condition. He's match-fit and it was important if he came that he got some pitch time. That's why we said we'd give it to him."
The Leinster flanker lines out in the back-row alongside Ulster's Chris Henry at No 8 and Munster's Niall Ronan at open-side and, with Jamie Heaslip suspended and John Muldoon out injured, there are back-row places in the match-22 for the following weekend's Test against Australia to fight for.
Marcus Horan, John Fogarty and Tom Court start in the front-row with Dan Tuohy and Ed O'Donoghue, a second-row partnership that worked well for Ulster this season, completing the front five.
Eoin Reddan gets in ahead of Peter Stringer at scrum-half and is another player who will be eyeing elevation to the Test side, while Jonathan Sexton gets his chance at out-half.
Paddy Wallace and Gavin Duffy form an experienced midfield and there is plenty of nous behind them, with the 67-times capped Geordan Murphy -- who captains the side -- at full-back and 65-times capped Shane Horgan on the right wing. Munster-bound Johne Murphy completes the back three and he will benefit from having his namesake and club colleague of the past few
seasons at Leicester next to him.
The bench carries a wealth of experience, not least centurion John Hayes, who returned to training yesterday having shaken off the virus that ruled him out of last weekend's Test. Donncha O'Callaghan, David Wallace, Stringer, Ronan O'Gara and Rob Kearney are also all seasoned internationals, while sub hooker Sean Cronin did well in difficult circumstances on his first senior start last Saturday.
Kidney stressed the importance of winning on Friday as the squad attempts to bounce back from a trying first week and he believes his players are capable of an encouraging response against the Maori.
"I think any time you put on a green jersey you want to win the match, that's always first and foremost," said the Ireland coach. "You can talk about good performances, but you'd always prefer a bad performance and a win than a good performance and a loss.
"After the match last week you want to try and get a win under your belt as soon as possible, but you have to work towards it. There's no secret remedy, it's a case of hard work and doing the basics right.
"These things happen in life," said Kidney, when asked about the review into last weekend's hammering.
"You know you're looking at good players getting involved in things they probably wouldn't usually be involved in and then you have a domino effect of events.
"You have a red card, yellow card; one of the tries in a phase of play during the yellow card we had a man with a broken arm (John Muldoon); during another one, I think Mick (O'Driscoll) tried to play through with a bad back.
"So, it was a domino effect the whole way through and the good thing is that the vast majority of it is within our own control. If that's the case, then it behoves us to try and work on it. If you looked at the video and said: 'We can do nothing about that,' then you'd be in a really bad place, but I believe 90pc of it is in our own control."
What is not in Ireland's control is the strength of the Maori challenge and with a host of All Blacks in their line-up, as well as international aspirants, there is danger everywhere. Kidney is expecting the Maori to adopt the open, running approach they are famed for.
"Yeah, that's what we expected going into the last match as well, that's the way the Super 14 matches have been played. Especially here, in the Rotorua International Stadium, you can see that there's a lot of room on the touchlines, so unless the ball goes well out teams are going to looking at ways of restarting the game.
"That's the way the line-out has looked here, rather than a set platform for attack and we have to be sharp on defensive line-outs and chasing down kicks because the ball can be thrown in at any stage. And maybe we'll look to do it ourselves once or twice.
"We'll go out and try and play our own game. We have to be true to ourselves as well and I think that's what the Maori would expect us to do. They will want us to be ourselves in the same way as they will be playing to their own strengths.
"We'll try and throw the ball around, but we'll try and throw it to ourselves after last weekend."