Mike Ruddock warns Ireland not to underestimate Fijian challenge

Ireland can set up a pool decider clash with New Zealand next Thursday

Ireland Under-20 coach Mike Ruddock has warned his side not to underestimate Fiji as they bid to take another step towards reaching the Junior World Championships for the first time.

Ireland, who opened their campaign with an encouraging 19-15 win over Australia, can set up a pool decider clash with New Zealand next Thursday if they overcome Fiji in Vannes tomorrow (5.45pm Irish time).

An Irish victory would likely set up a meeting with the Baby Blacks, where the winners will advance to the last four – New Zealand play Australia in the second game at Stade de la Rabine tomorrow evening.

However, Ruddock has warned his charges not to take anything for granted against a Fiji side who arrived a week early in France for an all-expenses paid camp hosted by Clermont Auvergne.


However, the wheels came off for the islanders against New Zealand on Wednesday night when they had two players sent off and three more sinbinned in a 59-6 drubbing.

Ruddock expects Fiji to respond to that defeat and is also wary of any complacency creeping into his own squad.

'Tough opponents'
"There is a danger we might pat ourselves on the back for beating Australia and perhaps relax a bit against Fiji but that is not the way it is going to be.

“They are going to be very tough opponents, very strong and very quick, and they have improved a lot. They have power, pace and size, particularly in the backs.

“I saw Wales two years ago get absolutely hammered by Fiji. We beat South Africa in our opening game last year but then lost to England and blew our opportunity.

“We won’t get ahead of ourselves. We have done our homework and we will be very respectful to Fiji and hopefully we can knuckle down and get a second win,” added Ruddock.

Ruddock, as expected, has made a host of changes as he rotates his squad for a tournament that sees them play five matches in 19 days. Blindside flanker Conor Joyce, who will captain the side, is the only member of the pack to be retained, with twin brothers Edward and Bryan Byrne coming into the frontrow, while Seán McCarthy, a nephew of former Ireland star Mick Galwey, starts in the secondrow. Chris Taylor and Gavin Thornbury make welcome returns after lengthy injuries.

There are four changes in the backs, with David Shanahan taking over from skipper Luke McGrath at scrumhalf and the Connacht pair of Darragh Leader and Mark Roche come in at fullback and outside centre.

Former Cork hurler Darren Sweetnam will start on the right wing for his fifth appearance at this level after last year taking up a Munster contract.
IRELAND: D Leader (Connacht); D Sweetnam (Munster), M Roche (Connacht), T Daly (Leinster), R Scholes (Ulster); S Crosbie (Leinster), D Shanahan (Leinster); E Byrne (Leinster), B Byrne (Leinster), C Taylor (Ulster); G Thornbury (Leinster), S McCarthy (Munster); C Joyce (Ulster), D Leavy (Leinster), J O'Donoghue (Munster). Replacements: G McGuigan (Exiles), P Dooley (Leinster), R Furniss (Exiles), J Donnan (Ulster), J van der Flier (Leinster), L McGrath (Leinster), R Scannell (Munster), D Panter (Connacht).