Ruddock looks to prove mettle for buoyant Leinster
WHEN Rhys Ruddock was called up to Ireland's summer tour following the injury to John Muldoon and Jamie Heaslip's suspension, it came as something of a surprise.
The 19-year-old (Ruddock turns 20 in November) got the nod over experienced back-rows like Alan Quinlan, Roger Wilson and Neil Best and throwing him into the deep end of a senior tour to New Zealand and Australia seemed, at the time, to be a case of too much, too soon.
However, Declan Kidney obviously saw something he liked and the Ireland coach's judgement was backed up again as Ruddock produced a phenomenal display for a player of his youth and relative inexperience when the tourists lost out narrowly to the New Zealand Maori with a first cap arriving the following week against Australia.
This evening, the flanker gets the opportunity to build on his growing reputation against Treviso at the Stadio di Monigo (6.05) and, with Kevin McLaughlin out of commission, Ruddock's performance has considerable significance for Leinster coach Joe Schmidt and Kidney as he looks ahead to the November clash with Samoa.
Ruddock forms a balanced back-row next to captain Shane Jennings and No 8 Sean O'Brien and the pack as a whole has a solid look to it, with Cian Healy and Mike Ross looking to build on last weekend's impressive scrummaging performance against Cardiff.
Rob Kearney's return at full-back means Schmidt can field, arguably, his best back three with Isa Nacewa and Luke Fitzgerald providing pace and penetration on the wings. Fitzgerald has been playing 15 in Kearney's absence, and doing well, but his quality on the left touchline is long established and this back three has tremendous counter-attacking potential.
Ian Madigan came in at short notice last week when Jonathan Sexton was injured in the warm-up and the 21-year-old did remarkably well, scoring a fantastic try to clinch the bonus-point win. This will be a tougher challenge in front of Treviso's vociferous home support, but Madigan has the experience of Eoin Reddan inside him for support.
The home side have some dangerous runners in Brendan Williams and Joe Maddock, an Italian international front-row and an excellent open-side in Alessandro Zanni. They are unbeaten at home since Munster beat then in the Heineken Cup in January and had an excellent opening league win over the Scarlets.
However, Leinster will take confidence form last weekend's win over the Blues and look to have too much firepower for their hosts. Back-to-back bonus-point victories may be asking too much on the road, but with Gordon D'Arcy restored to the centre and their scoring potential out wide, Schmidt's side should still have a bit to spare.
TREVISO -- B Williams; J Maddock, T Benvenuti, A Sgarbi, L McLean; K Burton, T Botes; I Fernandez, L Ghiraldini, L Cittadini; V Bernabo, C van Zyl; R Barbieri, A Zanni, M Vosawai. Reps: D Vidal, F Sbaraglini, P Di Santo, E Pavanello, P Derbyshire, E Galon, F Semenzato, S Picone.
LEINSTER -- R Kearney; I Nacewa, E O'Malley, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; I Madigan, E Reddan; C Healy, J Fogarty, M Ross; N Hines, E O'Donoghue; R Ruddock, S Jennings (capt), S O'Brien. Reps: R Strauss, H van der Merwe, S Shawe, M Galarza, S Keogh, I Boss, F McFadden, D Kearney.
REF -- P Allan (Scotland).
Treviso v Leinster,
Live, TG4, 6.05