Ruddock on breakdown alert in bid to rock Kiwis
Mike Ruddock's U-20s have been given a fighting chance of becoming the first Irish side to defeat New Zealand in a competitive game by the man whose side has been turned over by the two teams who will contest the Pool B decider in the Junior World Championship in France this evening.
Australian coach Adrian Thompson, whose side has been defeated by four points by both Ireland and New Zealand in the competition, says the best chance Ruddock's men have of creating a shock is to prevent the Baby Blacks going wide.
Thompson, whose side came up just short in a bruising encounter against the Kiwis on Sunday night, feels Ireland have a chance if they can frustrate the four-time champions.
"Ireland need to play that frustrating sort of game we played against them, scrapping for everything and getting their set-piece right.
"If they can man-up there, they have a good chance, but if it gets into an open game of footie, it won't help Ireland," he said.
Ruddock, who has made eight changes from the side which hammered Fiji 46-3 and is without injured place-kicker Tom Daly, said he appreciates the task his men faces at Stade de la Rabine in Vannes this evening.
"We have got to do everything right. We must be very competitive with our set-piece – win our own ball at scrum and line-out – and the breakdown is going to be a massive area.
"We focused very much on defence against Australia, on our set-piece against Fiji and the breakdown will be the big area against New Zealand.
"If we let the New Zealand loose forwards dictate the breakdown and dominate that area they'll have a lot more ball and a lot more opportunities, so we'll have to work hard on that that.
"We have huge respect for New Zealand rugby, of course, and their reputation at this age grade, but I think they'll be surprised when we get on the park and take the challenge up," he said.
Last year's fifth place in South Africa was Ireland's best finish since the tournament started in 2008. Therefore, victory this evening will not only secure a first semi-final spot, but it would also eliminate the Baby Blacks, who won the competition for the opening four seasons and were runners-up last year.
The sides are level on nine points each at the top of the pool with New Zealand, who have scored 10 tries to Ireland's seven, on a marginally superior points difference.
But, ultimately, placings are decided on the outcome of matches between sides.
There is an outside chance Ireland could lose and make the semi-finals as best runner-up, but it is unlikely.
There has been a lot of rain in the south Brittany area for the past few days, but it should be cool and dry for this evening's game which is set to attract a capacity 9,500 crowd again.
New Zealand coach Chris Boyd said that Ireland's set-piece and physicality were the two areas which concerned him. "The difference between the sides is not very much, we have different styles of play, but it will probably come down to the small detail.
"But, at the end of the day, the source of the ball – scrum, line-out and tackle area – that's probably where the game will be most contested," he said.
The Baby Blacks were pushed all the way by the Wallabies and skipper Ardie Savea, brother of All-Black Julian, who was player of the tournament in 2010 when they won it in Argentina, said they need to improve if they are to see off the Irish.
"We know we can play better and it is now a matter of getting up to that level against Ireland," said Savea.
Their preparations, however, have been disrupted after prop Alex Hodgman was been ruled out of the remainder of this tournament with a shoulder injury. The Baby Blacks have drafted replacement loosehead Daniel Lienert-Brown but as he encountered difficulty in arriving in France because of a strike by air traffic controllers, New Zealand had still not announced their side by last night.
Ireland – D Leader (Connacht); A Byrne (Leinster), T Farrell (Leinster), R Scannell (Munster), R Scholes (Ulster); S Crosbie (Leinster), L McGrath (Leinster); P Dooley (Leinster), G McGuigan (Newcastle Falcons), C Taylor (Ulster); G Thornubury (Leinster), J Donnan (Ulster); D Leavy (Leinster), J van der Flier (Leinster), C Joyce (Ulster). Reps: E Byrne (Leinster), B Byrne (Leinster), A Boland (Connacht), P Timmins (Leinster), R Murphy (Munster), D Shanahan (Leinster), M Roche (Connacht), D Sweetnam (Munster).
Ireland U-20 v New Zealand U-20
Live, TG 4, 5.45