'I feel fresh and my focus is on the run-in now'
The Big Interview: Rhys Ruddock
The Dublin-born lad heading back to the land of his father, that would be the standard starting point for most chats with Rhys Ruddock as he gets set to take on the Dragons this Friday. But not this one. Instead, the 26-year-old Leinster forward Ruddock is ideally placed to talk through exactly what went on last week in the Leinster scrum and, more to the point, just how difficult it is to play in a myriad of positions.
He laughs off the suggestion that it's difficult in the way you might laugh off most things as 'difficult' in comparison with, say, brain surgery, but after a while he does delve into the complexities of a multi-position role on match day.
By way of a recap, Ruddock is ostensibly a back-row and a very good one at that having been capped 13 times to date by Ireland. But lately we have seen him start in the second-row for Leinster or indeed come off the bench and into the second-row. So what was his take on last week's game against Edinburgh that saw a hooker line out at openside flanker and a second-row at blindside?
"It was unusual in that we had so many changes early in the game but we have seen it a few times this season with Dan Leavy on the wing, I think Jamison was on the wing at one stage in a game, Luke McGrath was on the wing on Friday. With rugby being such a physical game, you do have to prep for a few roles and that is possible for most positions. Your 23rd man in the squad will have to cover a few positions across the backline and the number 19 and 20 will have to cover positions across the second- and back-row.
"I suppose where it gets tricky is in the front-row and even the laws acknowledge that in that once you lose a full complement of three front-rowers, you have uncontested scrums so those positions are too physically demanding to just have anyone step in there. But otherwise you have to be able to adapt."
So where does the challenge lie?
"I can only speak for myself but I think the challenge isn't match day at all because if you are starting at six, well then that's your focus more or less for match day. And if you then switch to the second-row well you know more than likely that you will be in that position for the rest of the game. So I think it's easy to narrow your focus.
"For me, the real challenge is midweek and training. You really do have to have your homework done, you have to know exactly how each position plays out because plays will be called and you could be a six in one run through and a second-row in the next. So that is where the challenge really is. Making sure during the week that your details is really up to scratch because you also want to show the coaches that you are ready regardless of what they throw at you."
You'd imagine the technical elements on match day would throw a few curveballs but again by and large Ruddock is fairly relaxed. That is until it comes to the scrum.
"The lineout for me is very similar. As a six I'm a lineout option anyway and I play a role in our defensive line out so a move to the second-row isn't that much of a shock to the system.
"The scrum though is different and I've a new found appreciation for the work of our second-rows. It's a hugely technical position. Your connection to the front-row, your body positioning, your height in the scrum. And you don't want there to be a fall-off. You can't just be an option in case we are stuck. You have to bring as much technical accuracy to the position as the other second-rows. There can't be a drop in quality. So getting the basics of that right took a while but I really enjoyed the challenge that it presented."
To move the conversation along before it gets too technical, you venture that Ruddock, who has been dogged by injuries this season, would take any jersey against the Dragons this evening?
"Yeah, it's been a frustrating season. Just a lot of minor injuries. You get over one, play a bit, then another or get over one, then another flares up. None of them significant time-wise but before you know it we are into February and the end-of-season run-in is ahead of us and I've only played a part in a handful of games."
The stats back that up. Five starts and five off the bench. But opportunities nonetheless in that time.
"For me my mindset is completely focused now on the run-in and making sure that I can contribute as much as possible. I've been able to go away and work on some technical things, on some physical elements to my game and I feel fresh so this Friday's game and the run-in thereafter can't come quick enough."
And what of the Dragons and where Leinster are at the moment?
"We've come unstuck there the last few times. It's a difficult place to go and they've been unlucky in a few of their recent games but at home they're a threat. This is also their first Pro12 game back at Rodney Parade since early January so they'll be very keen to get back up and running again. But it's up to us and the squad of players and coaches to ensure we match them and try to get a performance that can keep the pressure on Munster and keep us ahead of Ospreys in the table."
In that squad will be one Ed Byrne. A proud Carlow man plying his club trade with UCD but yearning for another game with Leinster. His last game for Leinster was a pre-season friendly against Ulster in August 2015. His last game before that was October 2014. Devastating knee injuries in both games yet 28 months after his last competitive game for Leinster, Byrne will wear the number 17 jersey in Rodney Parade.
"I can't speak highly enough of Ed. Huge admiration for him. Men like him and Mick Kearney, players who have had long-term injuries, they are the real inspiration in Leinster. But Ed is special again. Two really bad knee injuries in the last two years but he's nearly back. It's hard to put into words how far my admiration for him goes.
"Every day. In on your own, struggling away on your own programme and yet Ed and players like him are the inspiration. And he never wavered. I'm sure he had tough days but he kept going and I really hope he goes well and that he has a positive experience."
Ruddock and Byrne. Two men, for different reasons, who will happily pull on the Leinster jersey tonight. Regardless of the number on their back. Just happy to be there.