Sunday 22 October 2017

Ireland skipper Rhys Ruddock backs Peter O'Mahony to excel with Lions

Rhys Ruddock is wary of a Japanese backlash
Rhys Ruddock is wary of a Japanese backlash

Rhys Ruddock has backed British and Irish Lions captain Peter O'Mahony to make a big impact against New Zealand in Saturday's opening Test at Eden Park.

Ruddock, Ireland's skipper on their three-game summer tour of the United States and Japan, and his team-mates sent a video message on Friday morning to the six Irish Lions who will take on the All Blacks.

Conor Murray, Tadhg Furlong, Sean O'Brien and skipper O'Mahony have been named in the starting line-up with Jack McGrath and Johnny Sexton poised to appear from the bench.

And Ruddock, who is gearing up for Ireland's rematch with Tokyo at Ajinomoto Stadium on Saturday, has backed O'Mahony and his compatriots to deliver the goods in Auckland.

"We're all obviously very good pals with those guys and have a lot of respect for them having played with them in the province or for Ireland," said Ruddock, speaking after Ireland's captain's run in Tokyo.

"It was pretty special to see those guys in the squad and even more so in the Test squad as well. For Pete it's a massive honour and we all think he's such a deserving character, such a good leader.

"He captained me at under-20 level and he's a pretty special guy in terms of his leadership qualities so we were delighted to see that decision as well."

In the absence of Ulster hooker Rory Best, who is also on Lions duty, Ruddock has stepped in to lead a youthful Irish squad through a challenging summer tour.

Ireland are preparing for their clash with the Brave Blossoms having beaten the same opponents 50-22 in Shizuoka last Saturday.

Joe Schmidt's men began their tour with a comprehensive 55-19 victory over the US Eagles in New Jersey earlier this month.

For Ruddock, leading his country has been the highest honour.

"This is a really good close group and a lot of good mates that I would have played with at under-20s and coming through (at Leinster) so it's been enjoyable from that perspective," he said.

"Then also the honour of captaining your country as well, it's one of the highest honours you could have. That's been massive. I've really enjoyed it."

Schmidt has made six changes to the side which ran seven tries past Japan at Ecopa Stadium last time out with Jacob Stockdale, Luke Marshall, Kieran Marmion, James Tracy, Kieran Treadwell and Josh van der Flier all coming into the startling line-up.

Ruddock and his team-mates are expecting a far sterner challenge from Japan after their head coach Jamie Joseph rang the changes this week.

Joseph has made eight changes to his side, with seasoned campaigners such as Shota Horie and Fumiaki Tanaka dropping to the bench.

Shintaro Ishihara, Yusuke Niwai, Takuma Asahara, veteran lock Luke Thompson and Shuhei Matsuhashi are all recalled while Yutaka Nagare and Jumpei Ogura form a new half-back pairing.

With Will Tupou suspended and fellow centres Derek Carpenter and Timothy Lafaele unavailable through injury, Yu Tamura and Kotaro Matsushima have been selected in a new-look midfield.

Exciting wing Akihito Yamada also returns to the starting line-up.

Joseph, who slammed his side for not being "desperate enough" against Ireland in the opening Test, is looking for a reaction from his troops and Ruddock is ready for a backlash.

"We saw our performance last week as being very good. Certainly, aspects of it were really good and really positive," added the Leinster flanker.

"We know realistically that Japan have a lot of growth. They way they finished the game was so strong and some of the players they have coming in will add a lot more as well.

"If Japan have the performance we feel they can deliver tomorrow, we'll have a more realistic gauge of where we are as a group."

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