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Ruddock confident that young stars can fill gaps left by Top 14 temptation

With Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip reportedly close to a move away, the under 20 boss says there are ready-made replacements available.

U20 squad members (from left) David Busby, Sean O’Brien, Captain Dan Leavy, Jack O’Donoghue and Peter Dooley with Mike Ruddock.
U20 squad members (from left) David Busby, Sean O’Brien, Captain Dan Leavy, Jack O’Donoghue and Peter Dooley with Mike Ruddock.
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

IRELAND UNDER 20s coach Mike Ruddock is confident that the young rugby talent in this country is well equipped to step into any void left by big-name players tempted abroad.

The Welsh Grand Slam winning coach yesterday began yet another new under 20s year with an almost entirely new squad containing just six members of last summer’s World Cup squad.

He has witnessed the cycle of improvement and replacement happen many times over and finds no reason to fear the need to trust in the young players coming through under his watch.

“I think it can,” responded Ruddock when asked if moving on the like of Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien could have a positive side for Irish rugby as a whole.

“You always want to keep what’s been a very successful model in tact, but looking back on my time in Wales as a player and as a coach, every time players went to rugby league, they always seemed to bring another guy through. When the likes of Jonathan Davies went off the to rugby league the Neil Jenkinses came out and played.

Better scenario

“I think it’s the same for Irish as well as Welsh rugby now. If guys do go off to France, there’s a conveyor belt of talent coming through in countries where the academies are very well established and it just opens it up for another player to come through.

“The difference from the rugby league days are that  you still have the option to pick that player that Left for your international team – it’s probably a better scenario than it used to be.”

Ruddock accepts that there is a balance to be made between blooding fresh talent and holding them back to hone their craft, but clearly feels that with just four professional sides, there is less room to thrive.

“Put it this way; I think there’s a lot of talent coming through in Irish rugby. Some guys are very unlucky not have a greater explosion. You take the team I had two years ago – the back row of Conor Gilsenan, Jordan Coghlan and Jack Conan – we beat South Africa, we beat England, we beat France in that tournament and they were outstanding.

“Guys like that have been so unlucky that there is such a good talent pool available. They certainly would have been players who could have kicked on pretty quickly after that World Cup.

He added: “It just shows the strength of Irish rugby – take someone like JJ Hanrahan, named in the top three players at the World Cup, that’s a fantastic achievement and it shows the quality of the guys we’ve got coming through.”

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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