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Rhys: We'll take stock

AFTER a few months of hard toil a significant number of the Leinster squad had the chance to put their feet up over the past week as they step up for a busy Christmas period.

For the internationals, the hard work goes up a notch with the November series starting tomorrow evening against Samoa.

For others like Rhys Ruddock, though not asked to train with the Ireland squad on this occasion, it was a busy week on a few fronts. Starting last Sunday he spent a few hours with his head in the books ahead of an accountancy exam as part of a Business degree. That was last Monday.

Then he travelled to Wales to visit friends and family near Swansea. Upon his return to Dublin he will reassess his goals and start a fortnight's preparation for Benetton Treviso away, followed by a series of massive tests to come.

So, in terms of Leinster's mid-term report, how would he view it? "Largely positive", the soon-to-be 23-year-old revealed in the aftermath of the province's hard-earned victory away to the Dragons last weekend.

"You can probably say that we haven't fully fired as of yet, but we have begun our European campaign strongly and we have picked up a bit of momentum in the PRO12, especially over the last few weeks.

"The defeats to both Glasgow and then Munster were tough because we felt as though we had let ourselves down, especially down in Thomond (Park).

"To be honest some of the disappointing results have helped to drive us on and we showed a fair bit of resolve to bounce back against the Ospreys and then at home to Castres Olympique and we're in a good position as we build up to face Northampton Saints in December."



A pause and then he adds. "It has been a bit of a mixed bag in terms of results but we're heading in the right direction and we're all enjoying working under Matt (O'Connor). There are always new plays and calls when a new coach comes in, but the transition from Joe (Schmidt) has been relatively smooth.

"If we can get all of the internationals back fit and well after November then we'll be in a good position to push on for the next few weeks and months."

Ruddock admits to feeling frustrated by the timing of the break coming, as it does, after a good run and a fine win. "Look, you know the calendar at the start of the season but we all love playing for Leinster and it would have been good for the new team to have another game this weekend together.

"There were a lot of new patterns and combinations and although our first half performance in Rodney Parade wasn't brilliant, we did well to fight back and personally it was good to get 80 minutes under my belt. The challenge is to make sure we pick up where we left off when we travel to Treviso."

Next week will see the squad return for a week's gym work and Ruddock believes the time spent conditioning can re-energise the players.

To understand why the hard yards that are made at this time of the year can push the panel on, he cites a couple of key moments which have displayed a real sense of mettle and intent on this year's journey.

"As a back, sometimes they're measured by the work they do in attack or in terms of finishing off moves.



"For out-halves, it might be about your kick ratio or how fluently you can pull the strings. As a forward, we pride ourselves on our dominance and the power we can bring to things like set-piece.

"There have been a good few points to illustrate that. Take Marty Moore's first scrum in the Heineken Cup win over the Ospreys last month. They were camped on our line, Rossy (Mike Ross) had just been replaced by a guy who was making his European debut against three British and Irish Lions.

"And by putting in a big pack effort as a unit at that moment, we got out of a potentially tricky position. It was the same last week. We were down a man in the closing seconds of the game and we had to bring in Darragh Fanning from the wing to go into the flank when the Dragons were camped on our line.

"His bit of weight helped the forwards win the scrum and for us that was huge. We held out and moments like that gave everyone a lift."

It's what sports psychologists term as 'championship moments'.

A premature statement with more huge tests to come that might well be, but as an inspirational act and a base on which to build, the focus will be on putting in the hard work to what Leinster hope can reap great rewards in time.