Tuesday 21 October 2014

Ruddock buoyed by rise to top of Blues queue

Flanker unfazed by Irish exile after shaking up back-row order at RDS

Published 08/01/2014 | 02:30

Rhys Ruddock, Leinster, is tackled by Salesi Ma'afu, Northampton Saints
Rhys Ruddock, Leinster, is tackled by Salesi Ma'afu, Northampton Saints

Perhaps it is the curse of being capped at just 19 in 2010, but Rhys Ruddock appears to have been stuck in the waiting room for quite some time.

Earlier this season, the flanker remarked that he always seemed to be answering the same questions during interviews about taking opportunities, availing of international windows and being patient.

The queue for a place in the Leinster back-row has never known such jostling, and this season Ruddock has finally got his elbows out and made it to the front of the line.

Still just 23, the blindside has been able to make the No 6 jersey his own since November, starting the province's last seven games.

During that time he has never packed down alongside the same two back-row colleagues, with Matt O'Connor using six other different starters as he rotated throughout the period.

The established core of Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien, Shane Jennings and Kevin McLaughlin have never been pushed as hard by the next generation of Ruddock, Jordi Murphy and Dominic Ryan who, in turn, know that young guns like Dan Leavy, Conor Gilsenan and Jack Conan won't be long in getting involved in the race.

The most notable absentee in recent weeks has been McLaughlin, who is primed to replace Ruddock against Castres if the latter's calf strain doesn't clear up.

And, having played seven in succession, perhaps it is time for a break, given the five-day turnaround between Sunday's game and the pool decider against the Ospreys.

However, further endorsement of Ruddock's growing status in this Leinster team came when O'Connor named him as captain against Treviso in recognition of the leadership skills that saw him skipper the Ireland U-20s in 2009/10.

That season saw him whisked from the Junior World Cup in Argentina to the senior tour of the southern hemisphere by Declan Kidney, who brought him off the bench against the New Zealand Maori, before making him part of the elite club of teenagers capped in the professional era a week later against Australia.

He has been in and around the national set-up since, but another appearance has failed to materialise.

The Wolfhounds game against England Saxons on January 29 appears a realistic target, but Ruddock isn't biting when asked about the prospect of donning green again.

His focus is on the here and now and building on the game time he has earned of late.

ENJOYING

"It's been really good. I have been enjoying the season but you have to look at yourself as well.

"I thought I always got a fair opportunity and this year I have just managed to be a bit more consistent. I have been lucky enough to get a few more games," he said.

"I think I've had plenty of game time this year and I've been happy with the way things have been going.

"Most of the opportunities have been at No 6, but if you have Seanie and Jordi playing a number of positions it's a good sign, especially when you get an injury to someone like Sean.

"That's a massive blow, but you have guys like Shane Jennings, Dominic Ryan and Jordi as guys who can play No 7 and are stepping up.

"For Jordi, to play No 8 the week before and get man of the match and then go to No 7 and do exactly the same again just shows the strength there."

Dublin-born Ruddock -- son of former Wales coach Mike -- is showing the qualities that marked him out for Test recognition as a teenager and also attracted significant interest from Munster and others when his contract was last up for renewal.

His current deal expires at the end of this season and while he has yet to sign an extension, he doesn't see himself anywhere else, having finally established himself in the first team.

"I love playing at Leinster. Once you are playing rugby you are going to be delighted to be with a club like Leinster," he added, with playing being the operative word.

Irish Independent

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