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Raw Ireland ready for Islanders

Stand-in skipper Ruddock says side can maintain standards set by Schmidt’s men against South Africa

By Jonathan Bradley

Filling in for Rory Best, skipper-for-the-day Rhys Ruddock is determined that the Ireland side who meet Fiji this evening in the Aviva Stadium will maintain the standards set by Joe Schmidt’s front-liners against South Africa last weekend.

After drubbing the Springboks by a record scoreline, Ireland’s team against the Islanders will bear little or no resemblance, with only Andrew Conway and Devin Toner asked to go again from the start.

Indeed, the latter and restored loosehead Jack McGrath account for almost two thirds of the side’s cap total, even if Fivemiletown native Chris Farrell is the side’s only debutant.

With such an inexperienced side, Ruddock revealed that the senior men, including those like Best who will be sitting in the stands, have helped to drive standards in training this week.

“The level in training this week has been no different to last, so that gives us great confidence,” said the Leinster man.

“The message has been the same, to prepare well at the start of the week and with Rory sort of driving that message at the start of the week and as we got closer to the game, it was sort of evident to me that guys have taken that on board and prepared really well.

“So my message is to be confident in the group — we haven’t played much together but the way things have gone gives us great confidence that we can go out and be the team that you saw last weekend.

“Everything we have done to this point has been great, but the real challenge is under the lights against the opposition we have and putting into practice what we’ve done all week on the bigger stage.

“At the same time we’re well aware that this is a huge test, both in terms of maybe the limited experience we have on our side and the lack of time with the combinations and the ability of the opposition.”

He added: “The way we’ve prepared, the coaching staff we have and the management, we know we’ll always have a good plan and if the guys show the commitment to it in the way we train and the way we prepare then we’re in with a good shout against any team.

“If we let them play the way they want to play, they’re capable of beating any team and very difficult to defend. So it’s a massive test but the way we’ve prepared we’ve got to take confidence from that and bring it into the game.”

Ruddock has been in fine form for Leinster this season, carrying the experience of captaining Ireland on their summer tour to the USA and Japan into his campaign at the RDS, and his cameo off the bench last week produced another strong display.

Having contributed to the big win, Ruddock stressed that there has been no degree of complacency in camp ahead of what will be seen as lesser opposition, especially with so many players, Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey among them, keen to take their chance to impress Schmidt.

“We were realistic in camp,” said Ruddock. “We were very positive about lots of aspects of our game.

“The first half, the quality that was done there in terms of shutting them down, not giving them a chance to play the game they wanted to.

“However, we picked up on a lot of aspects where we almost let them back into the game, mostly at the start of the second half.

“If we were to do that this week against opposition such as Fiji, on their day, give them that room to breathe, the opportunity to impose their game on you, you could be looking at standing under

your own posts in those 10-20 minutes.

“There is no complacency on our end. We are well aware of the challenge. I’ve heard people saying to me it is going to be more of a test than last week.

“We don’t look into it too much. We’re well aware of the threats they have.”

The biggest of which is undoubtedly Montepellier wing Nemani Nadolo, with Munster’s Darren Sweetnam sure to have plenty on his hands defensively with the 6’4’’, 20-stone flyer charging up his wing.

Ruddock, who started for Leinster when Nadolo scored twice at the RDS Arena earlier this season, says Ireland will do all they can to help the man making his first ever Ireland start.

“I think Darren will probably have spoken to Faz, (defence coach Andy Farrell) about some of the more technical aspects of defending on the wing. It is pretty impossible to stop him one-on-one with a full run-up.

“Hopefully I don’t get caught out on the edge too often.”

Just as long as Ireland aren’t caught out come the final whistle.

Bradley’s Verdict

A new look Ireland will be lacking plenty of experience but there are plenty of exciting prospects in the line-up. With Chris Farrell (right) debuting and Stuart McCloksey making a home debut, there is plenty of punch in midfield, even if the hosts will be made to work hard in defence to contain Nemani Nadolo, Leone Nakawara et al.

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