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Ruddock used to holding the fort

A quick scan across the squad which featured last weekend and a cast of leaders quickly appears.

Though shorn of Ireland captains past and present – Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Heaslip – because of international commitments, the squad were still able to call on the likes of Isaac Boss and club captain Leo Cullen in reserve if or when the time called for calm and experienced heads.

The latter duo, alongside Shane Jennings who, despite being a late withdrawal through injury operated as a waterboy on the sideline to dispense know-how and encouragement, have each worn the captain's armband at varying times this year.

Add to that mix Rhys Ruddock. Though it was not the first time he was asked to lead the team, it was perhaps the most symbolic for the Dublin-born wing forward as it was on the occasion of his 50th Leinster appearance.

Having previously led the Ireland Under-20 squad to Six Nations Championship success three seasons ago, leading is not that new a phenomenon.



But last weekend was a milestone not lost on the 22-year-old coming, as it did, on the night of an important bonus-point victory.

"It was a huge honour to be asked to lead the side on my 50th appearance – and it was a great win as well, more importantly because things are really hotting up at the top of the league table just now. I thought that it was a good all-round performance by the team and it was nice to see the forwards getting on the scoresheet too. "Seán Cronin showed a lot of pace with his first try especially, Dippy (Dominic Ryan) obviously chipped in with three tries, which is a great effort for a forward, and then Leo (Auva'a) came on and took a nice score himself late on.

"We spoke all last week about focusing on our set-piece, particularly our lineout, because that's a real area of strength for Treviso. We managed to put pressure on their ball early on and thankfully got the win.

"So we'll move on this week and prepare for another big game against The Scarlets."

The Scarlets' victory over Munster later that evening sharpened Leinster's instincts for the challenge that awaits this weekend. Familiarity between both sides means that there was never going to be any complacency as it was, especially with so many players away on international duty.

With resources thin of late, Ruddock has been impressed by the attitude of those who have stepped into the breach.

"When you flip between competitions such as the PRO12 or playing in Europe, for instance, you have to keep your mind clear and focused on your opponents that weekend. Because the moment you start taking your eye off the ball then you'll come undone.

"With the way things have gone this year, between the heavy injury list and player unavailability during the international break, we've had to rely on the whole squad.

"As well as that, there's a core group in the Academy who have featured fairly frequently too. So when players are unavailable, you just deal with it because there's a huge expectation every time you put on the jersey.

"The main positive coming from missing a lot of players is that there's now a group of young players who have gained a lot of experience."

Looking back on cap number one, Ruddock reflected on a period of great learning both as a person and a player. With three provincial appearances under his belt he earned a late call-up to the Ireland senior squad on their end-of-season tour to New Zealand and Australia – where he made his international bow – and he admits it was a baptism of fire.



"After those initial few caps in the 2009/10 season I was only really beginning to find my feet. That summer, after the tour, I gathered my thoughts and decided to have a really good crack at pro rugby and it was only really in my second season as a professional that I began to feel more comfortable in my surroundings."

The Scarlets game tomorrow night, he stresses, is Leinster's most important of this four-week block. And that's because it's the next challenge. It is also, he says, "a huge game and a massive opportunity to stand up and stake a claim on a jersey for the remainder of the season".

Spoken like a born leader.