Mike Ruddock backs Joe Schmidt’s World Cup warm-up strategy

Lansdowne coach must rebuild side that has lost six of last season’s starting pack

Mike Ruddock knows a thing or two about winning trophies whether it's with the Mumbles club and their Welsh Division Three South West title triumph to the 2005 Grand Slam and Six Nations Championship title with Wales.

Swansea, Leinster and Lansdowne have also enjoyed silverware during his tenure while the 2014 Ireland team reached a tournament high finish of fourth place at the Under-20 World Championship.

Not alone can he create a winning dynamic in a team sense but he's an advocate of giving young players an opportunity in senior ranks, perhaps the most relevant in a World Cup context, handing Tom Wood, who captained England during the World Cup warm-up matches in one of the Tests against France, his debut as a 19-year-old with the Worcester Warriors.

On Saturday, he'll try to preside over the beginning of a third successful campaign for Lansdowne in the Ulster Bank League Division One A but during the course of a wide-ranging interview, the former Wales A and Swansea flanker, was first asked for his thoughts on Ireland's warm-up matches.


Ireland strategy

“I think they (Ireland) are doing fine. They will be pleased not to have picked up lots of injuries. The coach is not necessarily putting his best team, his best combinations or number one combinations out, whatever way you want to frame it.

“He is looking at different blends so in the event of injuries he can assess what he needs to do if it comes to the big games in the World Cup. This phase (warm-up Tests) is massively into conditioning so you won’t always see the freshness or the energy you would normally see.

“What you will see is a great emphasis on the fitness and the strength and conditioning and then as you get into the competition phase, then you will start to spend more time on the opposition and start to look at a game plan. You’ll start to look at how they (the opposition) are playing and come up with the plays and patterns that you need to specifically break that team down rather than going out with general plays and patterns.

“You would not have showed your hand and you would be conscious every gameplan is tailored to the opposition. You can have your general plays – and you can change things to suit certain opposition. Ireland will do that and there is no smarter coach than Joe (Schmidt) to do that.”

Ruddock doesn't believe the loss of Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb to injury will have a massive impact on Wales' chances at the World Cup, pointing out "Liam Williams, if 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 that can do a job."

Of more pressing concern for the Welsh man is how he's going to rebuild a Lansdowne side that have lost six of last season's starting pack. Joe McSwiney has left for Australia, Aaron Conneely gone to Canada, Steve Gardiner to New Zealand, Ron Boucher is out for six months (ankle) while Tyrone Moran has picked up a contract with London Scottish: two more players may leave for London.

The other side of the ledger has seen Eamonn Mills arrive from Dolphin and Matt D'Arcy rejoins from St Mary's College. Ruddock must also plan without players required in the Leinster squad but can draw from the Lansdowne side that won the All Ireland Under-20 title last season.


He admitted: “You can have one season where you are very strong in a number of positions and the next season you can be decimated. You have to turn to the youngsters, blood those and develop those, which is good for Irish rugby.

“Three years ago we won the league, lost 13 players, had to rebuild and finished fifth the following season. Last season we won the league and by the looks of it have lost the same amount of players as we did the last time that happened. We will probably be in transition again this season. The job of coaches is to try and shape some of the other guys who can come forward.”

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer