'If we don't perform in the Pro12, it's not going to happen in Champions Cup'- Rhys Ruddock
Following a less than pleasant review of their consecutive Champions Cup losses, Leinster flanker Rhys Ruddock says all focus has shifted to Friday’s Pro 12 derby against Ulster at the RDS.
The past week has proved far from ideal for Leinster and their callow coaching ticket; a record home defeat at the hands of Wasps in their Pool 5 opener was followed by a much improved showing, but ultimately disappointing result against Bath at the Rec over the weekend.
Jut two games in, the three-time champions look unlikely to progress to the knockout stages, particularly when considering the back-to-back fixtures against Toulon next month.
Ruddock missed the Wasps drubbing through injury but returned for the clash with Bath and, despite pushing the hosts to the pin of their collar during the 19-16 defeat, morale has taken a hit.
“Disappointed and maybe feeling like we’ve missed an opportunity (Bath loss),” he said. “We’ve obviously had a good hard look at ourselves and saw a lot of improvements we can take as positives but the overriding feeling was disappointment, and that we need to go up a gear again as a pack.
“We underperformed against Wasps and I think we rectified a lot the mistakes and our attitude was a lot better at the weekend. We came off on the wrong side of the result and I think we’ve learnt a lot of harsh lessons in the process.”
Of course, Wasps, in a stunning effort at Rioch Arena last night, put Toulon to the sword with shock 32-6 win.
Ruddock is unsure what this means for the Blues going into the double header with the three-in-row champions, starting with the away tie at the Stade Felix Mayol on December 13.
“I don’t really know exactly of that’s a good result or a bad result for us; it’s hard to tell. Toulon, when you look at the pool at the start, they were almost unbeatable but Wasps proved on your day if you bring the right game plan, you can disrupt them and get a result.”
However, the showcase of flair and grunt Wasps put on against Bryan Habana and co is a far cry than anything Leinster have come close to mustering this season, though the Ireland back-row believes it’s not beyond the group.
With Toulon now a wounded animal, and a host of their new signings expected to be in situ when Leinster arrive, anything less may not suffice. After all, the French giants have eliminated the southern province in the last two seasons, though last year’s semi-final was a tight affair.
“Once you bring all the little pieces together, and do it with the right attitude, you can definitely up the performance by 5-10pc each week,” said Ruddock.
“We’ve got a good run going into the next couple of games; we’ll be tested but I think we can learn a lot and make big improvements. We’ve learnt the hard way against them twice how good you’ve got to be, but if we get our stuff together and approach the game right we can take it to them.”
For now, though, Leinster’s gaze is firmly on an Ulster side that have had similar difficulties on the European stage, having been resoundingly thumped 27-9 by Saracens at the Kingspan Stadium on Friday.
Leo Cullen’s side are just a point ahead of Ulster in fourth place, so Friday represents an opportunity for both sides to get back to winning ways and keep their league ambitions in tact.
The abrasive flanker is adamant that if the requisite levels are not hit in the next fortnight, which includes a trip to the champions Glasgow, besting Toulon is out of the question.
“Hopefully we can rectify it this weekend. We have a massive challenge against Ulster and we know how difficult it will be, but if we want to take any positives we have to start this weekend.
“It seems like two teams with a point to prove, playing for the same position in the league and both teams will approach it with the same attitude and look to stamp their authority on the game.
“It’s not really about looking ahead there; if we don’t perform well this week and next week, and make those improvements, it’s not going to happen just because it’s the Champions Cup. It’s about the short term and we need the performance this week.”