Monday 22 January 2018

Ruddock primed for 'ultimate test' against Baby Blacks as Sweetnam sinks Fiji

Ireland 46, Fiji 3

Former Cork hurler Darren Sweetnam
Former Cork hurler Darren Sweetnam

John Fallon in Vannes

New Zealand have never failed to reach the final of the Junior World Championship since it started in 2008 but Ireland can send them packing from this year's tournament when they clash at Stade de la Rabine on Thursday night.

The Baby Blacks won the first four JWC tournaments without losing a match and were denied the crown by hosts South Africa last year, but now Mike Ruddock's men can eliminate them and send Ireland into the semi-finals for the first time.

Ireland followed up their opening night 19-15 win over Australia by running in six tries against Fiji last night despite making 11 changes.

Coach Ruddock said that while he was fully aware of the magnitude of the task that awaits back at Stade de la Rabine on Thursday, he feels they have given themselves the best possible chance of coming through such a tough group.

"When we were handed the pool it was quite daunting, but very exciting to play three southern hemisphere teams, to go toe to toe with them, particularly on the hard firm grounds here in France," he said.

"We didn't walk away from the challenge – in fact we stepped up to the challenge. We are real proud of the players; they have put two big, big performances together and executed our game plans really well. There is a lot of confidence in the squad there now to take us into a fierce battle against New Zealand, that's going to be the ultimate test for us in the pool."

Last night's victory was Ireland's second biggest win in the history of the Junior World Championship and it was the first time they have won both of their opening games.

Former Cork hurler Darren Sweetnam scored a brace of tries, as did Ulster's Rory Scholes. Prop Chris Taylor and impressive flanker Dan Leavy also touched down.

Fears of a backlash from a Fiji side hammered 59-6 by New Zealand, when they had two men sent off and three more binned, never materialised and once Tom Daly edged Ireland in front with a penalty after 12 minutes and then made the gap which finished with Sweetnam scoring the corner four minutes later, Ruddock's men never looked back.

Daly was off target with the conversion and also missed two penalties from either touchline, but the Carlow man made it 11-3 on the half-hour. Ireland continued to be patient in their build-up and got a stranglehold as Fiji's discipline deteriorated – they conceded a dozen penalties to Ireland's four in the opening half – and Daly made it 14-3 at the break with a kick from 25 metres.

Ireland used their dominant scrum to wrap up the game after the restart, opting to force the Fijians to pack down in a series of penalties, and eventually their superiority told with Taylor scoring to put daylight between the sides.

Scholes got the first of his brace when he got the bounce of the ball after chasing his own kick down the left after 49 minutes, and he wrapped up the bonus point six minutes after Gavin Thornbury had stolen a line-out and the ball was quickly played through Steve Crosbie and Daly for the Ulsterman to score after switching wings.

Both sides emptied their benches in the closing quarter, and a fine Irish display was crowned when Leavy scored after being superbly set up by Sweetnam as Ireland set themselves up for what should be a cracking contest against a New Zealand side who were pushed all the way in a bruising encounter last night before they saw off the Wallabies 14-10 last night in Vannes.

Ireland – D Leader (Connacht); D Sweetnam (Munster), M Roche (Connacht), T Daly (Leinster), R Scholes (Ulster); S Crosbie (Leinster), D Shanahan (Leinster); E Byrne (Leinster), B Byrne (Leinster), C Taylor (Ulster); G Thornbury (Leinster), S McCarthy (Munster); C Joyce (Ulster), D Leavy (Leinster), J O'Donoghue (Munster). Replacements: L McGrath (Leinster) for Shanahan (53), J van der Flier (Leinster) for Joyce (59), R Scannell (Munster) for Daly (61), R Furniss (Exile) for Taylor (65), J Donnan (Ulster) for Thornbury (66), D Panter (Connacht) for Scholes (66), G McGuigan (Exile) for B Byrne (68), P Dooley (Leinster) for E Byrne (68), G Thornbury for McCarthy (72)

Fiji – R Rokoduru; M Qionimacawa, N Kunavore, A Tabualevu, E Ratucove; F Seru, E Waqa; J Ravula, T Vatubua, M Doge; E Macu, K Tokalau; L Bolenaivalu, J Baleidau, P Yato.

Replacements: Z Lee for Doge (h-t), J King for Rokoduru (47), P Cakoba for Vatubua (60), M Vunibaka for Yato (62), D Bower for Waqa (65), J Douglas for Seru (65), A Robarobalevu for Ravula (70), S Kerekere for Tokalau (72).

Ref – S Kubo (Japan)

Irish Independent

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