Former Wales coach Mike Ruddock believes Ireland have strength-in-depth
By Tony Curtis - Follow me on Twitter: @SkysportsTC. Last Updated: 29/01/13 12:07pm
Grand Slam-winning coach Mike Ruddock believes Ireland are "better equipped" for the RBS Six Nations after the emergence of a talented crop of young players.
A spate of injuries over the course of the past 12 months have seen a number of experienced campaigners sidelined - with the likes of Paul O'Connell, Stephen Ferris, Tommy Bowe, Brian O'Driscoll and Rob Kearney having sat out lengthy spells.
That has forced coach Declan Kidney to blood Craig Gilroy, Michael Bent, Dave Kilcoyne, Richardt Strauss, Iain Henderson, Ronan Loughney, Declan Fitzpatrick and Simon Zebo since the end of last season's championship.
Paddy Jackson and Luke Marshall also got their chance in the non-cap international against Fiji, while Mike McCarthy, Donnacha Ryan, Peter O'Mahony and Chris Henry have gained valuable game-time on the international stage.
And although O'Connell, Ferris and Bowe remain in the treatment room, former Wales boss Ruddock claims Ireland can now cope with notable absences.
"With the injuries Ireland have had, they have had to put the younger players in and that has worked in their favour as there is now more depth as a result," Ruddock, who now coaches Ireland Under-20s, told Sky Sports.
"This means they are now better equipped and the younger players could make their mark during the tournament.
"Craig Gilroy will probably get a really good run in the side. With the injury to Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble and Craig will be in pole to start on the wings.
"With Iain Henderson, Declan Kidney has looked at him for the back row but he could end up in the second row given the injuries."
"With the injuries Ireland have had, they have had to put the younger players in and that has worked in their favour as there is now more depth as a result."
Ireland will head into the championship with a point to prove. They failed to recover from a controversial loss to Wales in last season's opening game - when Leigh Halfpenny slotted over a penalty after Ferris was harshly yellow carded for a tip tackle - while the postponement of their game against France left them with three tough games on the bounce. A subsequent draw with Les Bleus and a heavy loss to England saw them finish third.
But with Grand Slam winners Wales first up again, Ruddock believes Ireland will be determined to set the record straight in Cardiff.
"I think a lot will come down to that first game," said Ruddock. "Ireland lost out last year when Stephen Ferris conceded a penalty in controversial circumstances and was yellow carded. The citing was overturned, though, so Ireland will feel that was a game they missed out on and feel that the luck deserted them."
During his two years at the helm, Ruddock guided Wales to their first Grand Slam since 1978 and he believes his former charges can mount another serious challenge despite a run of seven Test losses.
"Wales are always going to be there or thereabouts," added Ruddock.
"Injuries, though, could be key as a few of the second rows are doubtful while the likes of Rhys Priestland will be missing. Suddenly they are vulnerable but I guess it is the same for everyone."
Ruddock stepped down as Wales coach in 2006 and was replaced in the interim by Scott Johnson.
Seven years on and the Australian has been handed the same role with Scotland following Andy Robinson's departure.
And Ruddock believes Scotland will go into the championship with nothing to lose.
"Scott Johnson and Dean Ryan are a strong coaching team," he said. "The limited time with players could be of benefit as it can be like a breath of fresh air.
"It will be interesting to see how they do. They have a tough game at Twickenham but a good performance could set them up for the rest of the tournament.
"It is a challenge any coach would want. I think it is similar to when I took the Wales job. No one expects too much of them so there is no pressure on them. They can be relaxed and that can benefit the players."