Ireland, led by Munster hooker Niall Scanell defeated the heavily favoured Baby Boks 23-19 in Stellenbosch on Tuesday night to get their Pool B campaign off to a flying start and will return to the Danie Craven Stadium on Friday evening to face the team that pipped them to the Six Nations title in the final game of the U20 championship at Adams Park, High Wycombe, on March 16.
England scored a 64-5 win over Italy in Bellville on Tuesday to open their challenge to New Zealand’s crown and this weekend’s meeting of the pool’s two undefeated sides is certainly enough to keep Irish celebrations on hold, said head coach Ruddock.
“We’re very pleased but we can’t afford to get ecstatic because we’ve got another big game in four days’ time against England, the Six Nations champions,” Ruddock said. “So if we pat ourselves on the back too much we’ll lose our focus on that.
“We got beaten by them in the Six Nations and we’ve got our homework to do, but we learned our lessons from South Africa when they beat us twice last year and we came back determined to do better. We achieved that goal and now with England, who’ve beaten us the last two Six Nations, we’ll do well to improve that and close the gap but that’s our goal and that’s what we’ll have to try and do.”
Ruddock will take great heart from the Irish performance against the South Africans, the victory forged from a combination of sterling defensive work, ferocious rucking, great game management and goal-kicking from fly-half JJ Hanrahan and tries from Jordan Coghlan and Iain Henderson earned through charge downs.
“It was a great performance by the team,” Ruddock said. “We knew what we had to do. We knew we had to defend very strongly, make our tackles count, put the big South African lads on the floor. So we chopped them around the legs, got our second man on as well and we pressurised their ruck, gave them a lot of slow ball and then forced the pressure onto their half-backs from that slower ball. On two occasions we managed to get charge downs that both led to tries.
“Our plan worked like a dream. Obviously there was more to it than that: our set-piece pressure was good and our ability to pass the ball was quite good but we didn’t get too many chances. We had to make a lot of tackles, so it was important that we executed our defence strongly.”
The Ireland head coach praised Hanrahan’s contribution having only taken over as starting fly-half when team captain Paddy Jackson was withdrawn from the squad following his Heineken Cup exertions with Ulster. The UL Bohemians man did not miss a kick all night in Stellenbosch with two penalties, two conversions and a drop goal while his all-around game was outstanding.
“He did very well because our previous captain couldn’t make it out. So JJ went to 10, he’d been playing centre in the Six Nations, and for him to produce the quality of that performance was I thought a testament to his skill and ability and leadership.”
* It was incorrectly stated in yesterday’s match report that JJ Hanrahan is a member of Garryowen RFC. The Irish fly-half is a UL Bohemians clubman.