Ireland will head into this month’s Rugby World Cup on the back of consecutive Test defeats to Wales and England, but according to former Grand Slam-winning Welsh coach Mike Ruddock, they shouldn’t be overly concerned.
Speaking in the Aviva Stadium yesterday, at the launch of the new Ulster Bank League season, Ruddock felt that avoiding injuries was a major plus for Joe Schmidt.
As coach of defending AIL champions Lansdowne, he believes the approach he has taken to his own team’s pre-season games is similar to the way the international set-up has prepared in recent weeks.
“I think they will do fine. I think they will be pleased they did not pick up lots of injuries. The coach does not always look to put out their best team, or best combinations. He can assess what he needs to do, if it comes to the big games in the World Cup,” Ruddock remarked.
“So that is smart by the coaches. Ultimately, this phase is massively about conditioning, so you will not always see the freshness or the energy that you would normally see, or the explosiveness you get in a test team.
“Even at my level, the Leinster Cup, these last three games, I have worked the boys hard early in the week to get their fitness. Coming up to the first AIL game, I would be keen to lessen the load and make sure we focus on technical aspects, so that we will be fresher on the Saturday.
“Ireland, you can be sure, will be happy enough. They could have won all four games, they were on the wrong end of the scoreline on a couple of occasions, but they will have all their ducks in a row and will be ready to go.”
Although he has been coaching in Ireland for the past five years, Ruddock still keeps a close eye on the exploits of his own national side. In spite of the recent injuries suffered by Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb, he is certain Wales will be able to adapt during their World Cup campaign.
“It is not a massive setback because [Lloyd] Williams, if he is fit, is a brilliant player in his own right. And Dan Biggar will kick the goals, anyway. Yes, it is a blow for them, but straight away they have replacements who can do a job. Goal-kicking wise they should not be too far away with Dan Biggar anyway, but it will become a problem if they get more injuries. Don’t write them off yet guys.”
Ruddock has guided Lansdowne to two Ulster Bank League titles in the past three seasons, but owing to the absence of several players from last year’s squad, the upcoming campaign could prove to be a tough transition.
“I’ve lost six, I think, of my forward pack from last year. Joe McSwiney, he’s gone to Australia to work. Aaron Conneely, my other flanker, he’s gone off to Canada. He’s playing a bit of rugby, and living and working out there. Steve Gardiner, one of my second rows, he’s gone to New Zealand. Ron Boucher is in a boot, he’s out for six months.
“Tyrone Moran, the hooker for us last year, had a very good season. He was picked up by London Scottish. He’s gone over there on a contract. One lad, possibly two of them, could be going to London. Cian Aherne, my winger, has gone to UL Bohs.”
There are some positives for Ruddock, though, as he has recruited a number of experienced players ahead of their opening fixture against Young Munster on Saturday afternoon.
“On the plus side, we’ve got a full-back/winger, Eamon Mills, coming up from Dolphin. He’ll be working in Dublin, so he’s joined. Matt D’Arcy, former scrum-half with St Mary’s. He took pretty much a year out last year, just to play sevens. I think he’s a former Club International.
“He’s joined as well, which is good for us, because Adam Griggs, one of our scrum-halves, has damaged his finger. He’s out pretty much until Christmas as well. Probably more negatives than positives for us, but I’m delighted that a couple of good quality players have joined us as well,” Ruddock added.
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