Sweetnam ‘spark’ earns Ireland U20 call-up

Darren Sweetnam’s rise from inter-county hurler to professional rugby player reached another milestone yesterday with his call-up to the Ireland U20 squad, but coach Mike Ruddock has warned the Cork tyro has a lot of hard work ahead.

Ruddock named the 19-year-old UCC man in his squad for the Six Nations, singling him out as a talent playing catch-up with some of his more experienced colleagues.

Sweetnam was a regular in Cork’s midfield last season, but opted to take on rugby full-time when offered a place in Munster’s Academy at the start of the campaign.

The full-back has featured for the province’s ‘A’ team already and yesterday’s call-up is another boost to his credentials.

But, while impressed by the former Bandon Grammar schoolboy, the ex-Wales coach warned that he had some way to go before he could say he has made it.

“He’s a little less experienced than some of the guys in the panel but I wanted to get him involved,” Ruddock said.

“It’s always that balance between wanting to win every game and developing some guys we feel can really kick on.

“Darren comes from a GAA background, hurling, and he’s a talent. He’s got a little bit of work to do to catch up with some of the other guys but I think we can accelerate that learning by giving him an opportunity in this camp.

“With the coaches we’ve got like Greg Oliver in the backs to work with him (he should progress).

“There is a bit of work to be done with him yet but he definitely has a bit of spark, we definitely want to work with him and try to develop him.

“Due to the number of injuries it has presented an opportunity a little bit earlier for Darren than we thought originally when we first saw him play but I have to say that every time we have involved him he has got better.

That’s a good indicator. ”

Ruddock is unable to call on Connacht star Robbie Henshaw who played for Ireland Wolfhounds last Friday night. However, there is a possibility that the full-back may be involved for their second outing against England.

And, as he prepares his own team to meet the country of his birth, the man who led Wales to the 2005 Grand Slam reckons Ireland should win the big one at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday and get their season off to the perfect start.

“Wales have a number of injuries. I think the biggest thing is they’ll miss Warren Gatland so I fully expect Ireland to win,” he said. “There is a lot of continuity in the Ireland team and I think the other thing that is going to make major difference is the confidence the Irish players should have after some very good performances in Europe whereas the Welsh have struggled in Europe.

“ I fully expect Ireland to do a job, particularly after their performance against Argentina. If you can get the first win if can give you confidence and momentum. I think Ireland are in a better groove and they have players like Brian O’Driscoll it makes a big difference.”

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