Henshaw absence just one of the worries facing coach Ruddock
The rapid elevation of Connacht teenager Robbie Henshaw, coupled with a chronic injury list, sees Mike Ruddock’s Ireland Under-20s opening their Six Nations campaign in difficult circumstances this Friday.
It gets worse. They will be welcomed to Colwyn Bay by the bulk of last year’s Wales squad, which includes another teenager, Rhys Patchell, who is the latest pretender to the hallowed Wales number 10 jersey, having recently co-ordinated the Cardiff Blues’ 17-6 victory over Munster at Thomond Park.
The contrasting Henshaw and Patchell situations, with regards to (un)availability for their national Under-20 sides, neatly shows the difference between their respective countries’ blueprint on how the professional game should be run.
There is precedent to Connacht’s decision to withdraw Henshaw as Ulster yanked Paddy Jackson out of last summer’s IRB Junior world cup squad. Ultimately, the decision lies with the province.
Declan Kidney was on the record last Friday saying Henshaw should play for the Under-20s despite making his Ireland A debut but Connacht have a legitimate concern, as Ruddock conceded yesterday.
“That’s the principle, everyone wants that, ideally,” he said when told of Kidney’s comments. “Robbie, I think, has played every game (for Connacht). He has more minutes than any player in Irish rugby so far this season, so we got to bear that in mind.”
Amassing 91 points
Patchell has hardly been idle, playing 13 of Cardiff’s 19 matches this season, amassing 91 points in 817 minutes.
There is a significant ripple affect as a result of Henshaw’s absence, with Ruddock quick to note that Kerry man JJ Hanrahan excelled when switched from inside centre to outhalf after Jackson’s withdrawal last season.
The problem this time is the ideal replacement for Henshaw, fellow Connacht man Darragh Leader, is injured, while promising Leinster winger Adam Byrne recently broke his leg.
Next in the queue is an interesting experiment. A real coup for Munster rugby this season was a hammer blow to Cork hurling as Darren Sweetnam joined the professional ranks.
An undoubted raw talent, Sweetnam was initially included in the Ireland training camp to gain experience.
“It’s always that balance between wanting to win every game and developing some guys we feel can really kick on,” Ruddock explained.
“Darren’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
“He definitely has a bit of spark, we definitely want to work with him and try and develop him.”
Ruddock was asked if the 6ft 2in hurler has enough physicality to survive Under-20s international rugby. “We’ll find out. Due to the number of injuries it has presented an opportunity a little bit earlier for Darren than we thought but I have to say every time we have involved him he has got better. That’s a good indicator.”
Sweetnam has already survived, actually thrived, amidst the madness of Semple Stadium on a summer day. He hurled well in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Croke Park too. But the scimitar is no longer his weapon of choice.
This Ireland starting XV, to be announced tomorrow, will have some established quality at halfback, where former St Gerard’s outhalf Steve Crosbie has earned his spot mainly due to his form for Old Belvedere in the AIL.
Belfast Harlequins’ Stuart Olding is also included but Ulster seem poised to take him away.
Under-20 Six Nations squad
John Andrew (Ulster)
Jake Caulfield (Ulster)
John Creighton (Ulster)
Steve Crosbie (Leinster)
Thomas Daly (Leinster)
John Donnan (Ulster)
Peter Dooley (Leinster)
Conor Joyce (Ulster)
Seán McCarthy (Munster)
Luke McGrath (Leinster)
George McGuigan (Exiles)
Ryan Murphy (Munster)
Stuart Olding (Ulster)
Alexander O’Meara ( Exiles)
David Panther (Connacht)
Rory Scannell (Munster)
Rory Scholes (Ulster)
Brian Scott (Munster)
Darren Sweetnam (Munster)
Christopher Taylor (Ulster)
Gavin Thornbury (Leinster)
Peadar Timmins (Leinster)
Josh Van Der Flier (Leinster).
Friday, February 1st: Wales v Ireland, Parc Eirias, 7.10pm
Friday, February 8th: Ireland v England, Dubarry Park, 7.35
Friday, February 22nd: Scotland v Ireland, Netherdale, 7.30
Friday, March 8th: Ireland v France, Dubarry Park, 7.45
Friday, March 15th: Italy v Ireland, Stadio del Marsi, 7pm