Thursday 18 January 2018

Ruddock feeling 'fitter than ever' as he eyes Cardiff showdown

Leinster's Rhys Ruddock in action during squad training
Leinster's Rhys Ruddock in action during squad training
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Injury never comes at a good time for a player but, for Rhys Ruddock in particular, the timing of his couldn't have come at a worse moment.

A broken arm suffered against Harlequins in mid-December ruled the back-row out for 10 weeks which not only meant that he missed Leinster's busy Christmas period but he was also out of contention for Ireland's opening Six Nations games.

Ruddock was one of the most impressive players in Ireland's autumn victories over South Africa and Australia and looked set to continue in Joe Schmidt's Six Nations plans.

A couple of minor setbacks hampered Ruddock's recovery but he did make a welcome return to action last Friday night in Leinster's draw with Ospreys.

Son of former Wales and Ireland U-20 coach Mike and having also grown up in Wales, his Welsh ties are well documented which makes his push for a recall for Ireland's crunch clash in Cardiff all the more important to him from a personal point of view.

"I would absolutely love to be involved in that one. I'm not going to lie," the 24-year old smiled. "My dad's side of the family are all living over there. They'll be at the game. They all bought tickets a while ago hoping I would be involved.

"They would go to a lot of the rugby internationals anyway. It's a big rugby family. I think my parents are going over as well. It would be disappointing if it didn't work out.

"I would say they will be disappointed if I'm not involved. It will mean that they'll be cheering for Wales rather than Ireland!"

Ruddock will be involved with Leinster again this weekend for their Pro12 game against Scarlets and he knows how crucial game time is in his bid to force himself back into Schmidt's thoughts.

Sean O'Brien's concussion means that he will have to complete the return-to-play protocols while Schmidt is already sweating over the fitness of Jamie Heaslip.

Jordi Murphy and Tommy O'Donnell have both enhanced their reputations with impressive performances in recent weeks but Ruddock is keen to stay focused on his own progress.

"The good thing is that I feel fit," he said. "I am as fit, if not fitter than I was prior to the injury.

"It's just about getting game time under my belt and having a chance to prove yourself to the coaches. I suppose I was hoping to be back much sooner but I've had a few minor setbacks.

"With a bone injury, the time you're given at the start is just a guideline. You've got to review it week by week and things were a bit slower than I thought.

"If you asked me a few weeks ago, I would have liked to have thought I'd push my way back into the (international) frame but now I've just got to try to build on last week's performance."

Despite not being in Carton House with the Ireland squad, Ruddock has remained in constant contact with Schmidt but he doesn't need any reminding of the level of competition that he faces.

"He's well aware of where I am and that I'm fit again at least, and ready to go. I know inside out what he wants from you.

"Obviously the lads have been going well and there are a couple of injuries around the place but the guys who have got the chance to put on the jersey have done really well.

Opportunity "People are getting to know what's expected of them in the environment and when they get their opportunity they're more likely to take it."

He wasn't at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday for Ireland's gripping win over England but Ruddock watched on with keen interest. So what went through his head when he saw O'Brien wobble on his feet?

"You're obviously concerned for the player, especially if it's a mate who you play with every week.

"The fact that he's had a long-term injury and came back and did the hamstring, and working so hard to get back in the team, you don't want to see a guy like that have that sort of misfortune again. So hopefully he's alright.

"If the opportunity comes along it would but be great but I have enough to worry about," Ruddock insisted.

"I want to be playing as well if not better than I was before the injury and if I want that then I have to have a big performance this weekend.

"I'm not going to be in training with Ireland so I've got a pretty clear focus for myself this weekend and I suppose that's good for me and good for the team."

His focus will remain on Leinster as they continue to try and set their stuttering form straight but in the back of his mind, Ruddock is almost certainly envisaging running out at the Millennium Stadium in a green jersey.

There would be few more fitting stages to mark his international return.

Irish Independent

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