Frustrated Ruddock aiming to impress
NEWS that Iain Henderson was included in Ulster's squad for Saturday's inter-provincial derby against Leinster will have brightened Rhys Ruddock's day.
Not too long ago, the Leinster blindside was the bright-eyed boy of the Ireland back-row, but, having won his first cap as a 19-year-old off the bench in Australia in 2010, he has yet to build on that performance.
He watched on as the 20-year-old Ulster forward was on the bench for Ireland's Six Nations campaign and admits that it was a frustrating time. Henderson now has five caps, Ruddock remains on one.
Still, he is only 22 and has time on his side. Having been exposed to the rigours of the international game so early, the former Wales underage international is hungry for more and admits his frustration at having trained at Carton House during the Six Nations, but not being directly involved. He was unlucky, perhaps that the back-row was the only area of the Ireland team where injuries were not a factor.
And now he has his sights on the summer tour to the USA and Canada as a chance to move the dial on his caps total.
"I'd love to be in that position and playing for Ireland, so I suppose it is frustrating," he admits.
"I've had opportunities to train and been in and around the camp, so I can't say I haven't been getting the opportunity – but it has been frustrating to watch and any player who is on the fringes wants to be there and putting on the green jersey.
"The summer tour would be a great opportunity to put on the green jersey again. It is something that I have sights on, but at the moment, I haven't played in a few weeks, so I want to play this week and go from there.
"With the summer tour and us being still in the two competitions, there is plenty to play for, but, like anyone, I need to perform."
Ruddock's major problem is the strength in depth available to Joe Schmidt and Jonno Gibbes in the Leinster back-row.
Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien returned to the squad this week, while Kevin McLaughlin and Shane Jennings played in last week's win over Glasgow and Dominic Ryan replaced the injured Jordi Murphy.
The levels of competition are fierce, especially considering the entire Ireland U-20 back-row last year were Leinster players. Having turned down Munster last year in order to stay and fight for his place, Ruddock needs a run in the team.
And Gibbes says that the form showed by the understudies during the Six Nations run of four wins, will see them rewarded.
"To be fair, that period during the Six Nations there was a number of guys who played well and took their chance. Rhys and Jordi showed well and I was really pleased that Ben Marshall and Jack McGrath's involvement was really positive," he says.
"They keep the pressure on and add to that the quality and accuracy of the things they do in training. That's what you're after really."