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Rhys' relief he made his mark

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Leinster's Dave Kearney, left, Rhys Ruddock and Jack McGrath, right, with the Amlin Challenge Cup following their victory. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Leinster's Dave Kearney, left, Rhys Ruddock and Jack McGrath, right, with the Amlin Challenge Cup following their victory. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Leinster's Rhys Ruddock. Picture: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Leinster's Rhys Ruddock. Picture: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

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Leinster's Dave Kearney, left, Rhys Ruddock and Jack McGrath, right, with the Amlin Challenge Cup following their victory. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

THE boy wonder had become a man wondering about his place in the game until a surprise call to arms enabled him to remind the Irish public of what he can do.

Rhys Ruddock has certainly made an impact at the business end of the season, playing out the entire match against the Ospreys and contributing from the bench against Glasgow Warriors in the PRO12 League semi-final.

This all paled beside Joe Schmidt's faith in him to start against Stade Francais in the Amlin Challenge Cup final last Friday evening, when Kevin McLaughlin and Shane Jennings were deemed surplus to requirements.

Ruddock concluded his heavy workload against Stade as Leinster's busiest tackler on 15 hits and received special mention from coach Schmidt, putting him in the frame to start against Ulster in the PRO12 League final.

"It was great to get out there and show what I can do in a big game," said Ruddock.

"It felt great to be part of a winning final. It is still silverware. It is still a European competition, one that we never won before as well.

"There was plenty of motivation there and I think it showed in the performances. It is always better to know you have made a contribution than to support from the sidelines."

In some ways, it has been a long time coming, the deep satisfaction of playing a full and worthy part in one of Leinster's last five finals.

Ruddock was just 19 years old when he was summoned from his responsibility as the Ireland U20 captain at the World Championships in Argentina to sensationally win his first Ireland cap against Australia as a replacement.

It was supposed to be the first step in a swift transformation from age-grade phenomenon to regular senior international back rower.

Now 23, the Emerging Ireland captain for the Tbilisi Cup in Georgia has always been blessed with natural leadership qualities.

Sometimes he has not had the luck of staying fit in what is the most competitive sector of Leinster rugby with British and Irish Lions Jamie Heaslip and Seán O'Brien two automatic starters.

That usually leaves one spot open for Shane Jennings, Kevin McLaughlin, Dominic Ryan, Jordi Murphy and Ruddock. It is a crammed area.

Game time is the most precious commodity sought by every professional. Progress is impossible without it. He has had nine starts and nine cameos from the bench this season – not as many as last.

Even Paul O'Connell needed time in the heat of battle to prove himself worthy of his third Lions tour. Time can be a curse.

There were strong rumours of Munster interest in Ruddock as far back as January 2012 before he signed a two-year contract extension which will end in the summer of 2014. Ruddock has had to see his older brother Ciarán Ruddock move away from the professional game.

His 2011/2012 season ended in April when had to endure hip surgery, coming back this season at the end of October.

He has stayed patient and stayed at Leinster when he could have flown the nest. He is now reaping the rewards.


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