Thursday 26 April 2018

Confident Ruddock eager to bring summer tour experience into new season

Rhys Ruddock of Leinster. Photo: Sportsfile
Rhys Ruddock of Leinster. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

For a while last season, Rhys Ruddock almost became the forgotten man at Leinster.

A luckless run of injuries could hardly have come at a worse time as younger back-row rivals like Jack Conan, Josh van der Flier and Dan Leavy continued to enhance their reputations.

It left Ruddock in a battle to force his way back into the reckoning at Leinster while at the same time, Ireland's summer tour to the USA and Japan loomed large.

Ruddock managed to achieve both goals and when the call came from Joe Schmidt to captain Ireland, it served as a timely reminder of how highly he is rated by the Kiwi.

"I was just hoping to get picked on the panel to go," Ruddock admitted at the launch of Canterbury's new Ireland jersey.

"I knew there was heavy competition in the back-row so I was hoping I had done enough with my performances to get on the plane.

"I was aware that I was a more senior squad member when it was announced and that there was a possibility of being one of the leadership figures.

"I was keen on making sure that I used my leadership experience with the group but I wasn't really thinking of the actual captaincy. When it came I was excited and delighted to get the opportunity."

Ruddock took on the role and thrived under the extra weight of expectation. The 26-year-old was one of the standout players on the tour and as the new season draws nearer, he is eager to take those learnings back to Leinster.

"I definitely felt like I gained a lot of experience," Ruddock said. "I suppose it was a massive challenge to captain your country for the first time on a tour like that. There was definitely a lot to think about out there.

"You are thinking a lot about the team. Everyone else is sort of about performance and preparation in terms of themselves.

"It was an enjoyable experience but to set captaincy goals or anything like that down the line wouldn't be something I would do.

"If something like that came out of it then great but I would still be bettering myself anyway.

"I'll definitely look to take some of those skills back to playing with Leinster and making sure that I continue to improve that side of it."

Ruddock's task this season will be made all the more difficult by the return of Jamie Heaslip and Jordi Murphy and that is not to mention the plethora of other quality young back-rows fighting for their place.

At this stage of his career, Ruddock is well used to that intense level of competition, but to have captained his country on tour has clearly renewed his confidence.

"I think the ambition would always have been there anyway," he explaiend.

"I would always be desperate to get it, any time there is a squad announcement. I would be hugely disappointed if I don't and really excited if I do.

"I wouldn't say it's (captaincy) changed me but maybe it will give me a bit of confidence to kick on."

Irish Independent

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