Mike Ruddock: 'We're not flying halfway around the world to make up the numbers'

The Ireland U20s coach spoke to us about trial matches, job offers and keeping in touch with Paddy Jackson.

Ireland U20 coach Mike Ruddock is preparing for his fifth JWC.
Ireland U20 coach Mike Ruddock is preparing for his fifth JWC.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

MIKE RUDDOCK IS preparing to depart to the Junior World Championships with an Irish U20 squad for the fifth time.

Ruddock, who coached Wales to a Grand Slam in 2005, has led the U20s to wins over Australia and South Africa in the past but his latest squad struggled in this seasons’ Six Nations. He told that beating the world’s best at JWC 2014 is an attainable goal and insisted he is not planning on vacating his post any time soon.

Ruddock’s success in developing young talents while challenging for trophies — not to mention the Grand Slam on his CV — has led to his name being link to coaching roles at Connacht and Munster [twice] in the last three seasons.

“I’m happy doing what I do,” said Ruddock. “I’ve been lucky enough to coach in the Celtic League with the Dragons and, before that, in the European Cup with Swansea, and with the Dragons. I’ve coached Worcester Warriors for three seasons in the Premiership and I’ve coached international rugby with Wales. I’ve pretty much done all I’ve wanted to do.

I’ve had a few phone-calls about different jobs over the years but I’ve never put my name forward because I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I really enjoy watching the guys coming through the way they have. Guys like Jordi Murphy, Iain Henderson, Paddy Jackson, all these guys. I still keep in touch with some of them from time to time, wish them well.”

The Wolfpuppies won two of their Six Nations games this year but Ruddock says his message will be no different to his latest squad, than it was to the U20s he led into battle in 2010. He said, “I give the same speech ever year — that we haven’t flown halfway around the world to make up the numbers; we’re here to win it.”

Ruddock has brought in eight players that took no part in the underwhelming Six Nations campaign this year and, in the process, added some brute force to his squad. “A couple of guys have played their way in, through their form,” he said.

“Guys like [Munster's] Ryan Foley, for example, who didn’t play as well at the start of the season. He has gone off and worked hard on his game. He has been playing regularly for Cork Con in the Ulster Bank League, which has really improved his game. When we put him into a trial situation pre-World Cup, he was one of those star performers. He played well against Scotland again so he thoroughly deserves his opportunity.”

Ronan Murphy, Peadar Timmins, Alex Wootton, Sean OÕBrien and Mike Ruddock 15/5/2014 Ronan Murphy (PwC Senior Partner), Ireland U20 players Peadar Timmins, Alex Wootton, captain Sean O’Brien and head coach Mike Ruddock. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ruddock added, “You have to remember that some of these guys were in school 12 months ago. Some are just adapting to seniors rugby and others just need another couple of months to kick on and progress.”

“It’s just just about size; you want footballing ability as well,” says Ruddock of the new recruits. “If you are a big fella but have good rugby ability, particularly up front, given the physicality of the French and Welsh pack, then that makes a massive difference. We felt we were out-muscled in the previous outings against them.

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“We probably had the best scrum in the World Cup, this time last year, but our scrum hasn’t been up to those levels this season so we thought we would look at a few new combinations.” Ruddock has called on tight-head Craig Trenier [Terenure/Leinster] and hooker Dylan Donnellan [UCD/Leinster] to take the front row fight to their group opponents.

Ulster, on the other hand, had no new call-ups and just two players in the 29-man squad. Ruddock dismisses the notion that the Ulster Academy has produced a poor crop this season. “No, not at all,” he said. “Sometimes these things just go in cycles.

If you look at the quality of players they have produced in recent years World Cups — Rory Scholes, I remember, scoring the first try against Australia last year. Paddy Jackson, Iain Henderson, Craig Gilroy, Luke Marshall… there’s certainly nothing wrong with their academy it’s just that this year might not have been as fruitful as in previous years.”

The trial match, which took place in late April, was vital for Ruddock and his coaching staff to gauge which of the outsiders could produce the goods under pressure. Given the fact that Wales senior team are holding a ‘probables’ versus ‘possibles’ game, are old-school trials making a comeback?

Ruddock said, “It’s a little bit trickier at senior level. Guys play a lot more rugby and they go into these playoffs at the end of the season so scheduling a trial would be hard. Certainly, for a start, it is a perfect selection tool for me to build on… The national coaches get to see their guys in high-profile games more often.”

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Patrick McCarry

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