Ruddock urges Ireland U-20s to seize 'fantastic' chance on world stage
Ireland U-20 coach Mike Ruddock has urged his players to seize the opportunity of playing on the global stage when they kick off their Junior World Cup campaign against France on Monday.
Ruddock has been forced to plan without both of his usual captains after Dan Leavy and Sean O'Brien were ruled out through injury. Highly rated Munster academy player Jack O'Donoghue will now lead the side in New Zealand and Ruddock is keen for his players to impress.
"You get a chance to play against the best teams in the world, the best players and peers of the same age group," Ruddock said.
"It's a wonderful benchmark and a chance to see where they are at. And the fact it's on in New Zealand as well means that the guys have to immerse themselves in that culture, which is fantastic.
"It's rugby, rugby, day and night. Everyone wants to talk about it wherever you go, so it'll be great. For a lot of guys it will show them how powerful the game is globally and it will help them to aspire to the levels, in terms of mindset, of the New Zealand players."
Ruddock also admitted that he has been in direct and regular contact with Ireland coach Joe Schmidt and that the Kiwi is keeping a close eye on several players' progress.
"I've spoken to Joe about a few guys and if it goes well for them, the national management are taking a great interest in the players coming through," he said.
"If these guys go well, the national coaches are open-minded about fast-tracking players if that needs to be done. But you have to make sure that they are ready for that step up."
Ireland have never reached the semi-finals of the competition – their best finish was fifth in 2012 – but Ruddock admitted that he isn't looking past the opening game against France.
"To be honest, I don't look so much at those outcome goals. My thoughts are focused on how are we going to beat France. I've written my game plan that I presented to the players before we beat Scotland (30-17, in warm-up match at Murrayfield on May 11).
"I said: 'Look guys, I'm going to ask you to do things today that might not work against Scotland, but are things we want to take in to the French game.'
"No disrespect to Scotland, but there were things we wanted to try in order to take into the French game."
Meanwhile, Jonny Wilkinson is set to be added to Toulon's coaching staff next season, according to reports. The fly-half is set to bring the curtain down on an illustrious 17-year playing career this weekend, following Toulon's clash with Castres in the Top 14 play-off final.
But the French side's coach Bernard Laporte is keen to bring the 35-year-old World Cup winner on to his staff.
"A person of his stature will undoubtedly bring something more in the frame, it is obvious," he said. "He will not necessarily travel with the team all the time because he wants to take a step back at weekends."