Losing top stars to France can boost Ireland - Ruddock
GRAND SLAM-winning former Wales coach Mike Ruddock believes Irish rugby can benefit if Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip complete moves to the Top 14 in the coming days.
Speaking at the announcement of his Ireland U-20 squad for the upcoming Six Nations campaign, Ruddock insisted Irish rugby has the depth of talent to cope should they lose more front-line players to the French league.
"Obviously you never want to lose your best players and you always want to keep what has been a very successful model intact if you can," said Ruddock, who guided Wales to a clean sweep in 2005.
"Certainly, looking back on my time in Wales both as a coach and a player, every time a player went to rugby league they always seemed to bring another guy through.
"When Jonathan Davies went off to rugby league, Neil Jenkins came out to play.
"It's a shame for Irish rugby as well as Welsh rugby to have guys go off to France, but there's such a good conveyor belt of talent coming through -- because the academies are very well established -- that it opens up for another player to come through.
"Take JJ Hanrahan, who was named in the top three players at the (Junior) World Cup in Cape Town. That's a fantastic achievement and just shows the quality of guys coming through.
"It took him a little bit of time to break through, but now he's starting to put in some really good performances.
"It's not a bad thing that they have to fight for their place either. You have to balance that up with the fact that sometimes there's an argument for fast-tracking players.
"At the same time there's an argument that some guys have to really earn it, and when they do they're probably not going to allow that jersey to be taken off them."
Since Ruddock's appointment in late 2010, Ireland's youngsters have enjoyed some significant results at this grade.
Last year, they recorded wins over France and England on home soil before the latter went on to win the Junior World Cup last June. Ruddock has also overseen a first win against South Africa at this grade as well as a best finish of fifth at the 2012 Junior World Cup.
And he's quietly confident the current crop can add to that progress in this campaign, which kicks off with the visit of Scotland to Athlone's Dubarry Park on Friday, January 31.
"The potential is there. They look very good and very competitive. But how will they gel and how will they come together? How will they handle the big stage with the first game live on TV?" he asked.
"Some guys will rise to that challenge and kick on and be better players than they look at the moment, and other guys might find that a bit daunting.
"So I don't know, but my gut instinct is that it's a competitive squad and there are a lot of talented players there. I'm looking forward to working with them. I think we can mould them into a very good team.
"We had some good wins in the Six Nations last year. We beat France and England at home, and England went on to win the World Cup. It shows we can be very competitive at this level."
Only two players, Peter Dooley and Peadar Timmins, are included from last year's Six Nations squad, while a further four were in action in the Junior World Cup in France, including highly-rated captain and openside flanker Dan Leavy.
Ireland U-20 (Six Nations squad) --M Abbott, H Brewer, R Burke, D Busby, R Byrne, A Byrne, J Cullen, W Dardis, S Delahunt, P Dooley, I Fitzpatrick, S Gardiner, D Goggin, O Heffernan, C Kelleher, D Leavy (Capt), N McCarthy, C McKeon, R Moloney, R Molony, S O'Brien, J O'Donoghue, G Ringrose, P Robb, F Taggart, P Timmins, J Walshe, A Wootton