Friday 23 August 2019

Cian Tracey's Pro14 final breakdown: 'Ruddock and Healy recapture their best form with World Cup looming'

Cian Healy, left, and Garry Ringrose of Leinster with the cup
Cian Healy, left, and Garry Ringrose of Leinster with the cup
Rhys Ruddock. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Now that the unfortunate, inevitable injuries have already robbed Ireland of two of their best flankers, the World Cup selection headaches facing Joe Schmidt for what is an ultra-competitive position are lessening.

By the time Ireland arrive in Japan they will be doing well not to have been dealt further setbacks, particularly after the warm-up games, which are bound to throw up further unwanted issues.

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Most people would agree that, had he been fit, Dan Leavy would have been the first-choice openside with Seán O'Brien next in line, if he could rediscover his best form, which he did do against Toulouse last month.

To lose one was a blow, losing two has significantly dented Schmidt plan's.

The page must quickly be turned and Josh van der Flier's return to fitness ahead of schedule could hardly be better timed. Van der Flier is now absolutely central to Ireland's World Cup hopes.

It's easy to see how effective the 26-year-old is as he invariably gets through a mountain of work on both sides of the ball. However, he is able to do so because of those around him and Rhys Ruddock, in particular, epitomises that.

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The ultimate team player, Ruddock has perfected the art of making those around him look better, which is why he has long been a firm favourite of Schmidt's.

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Ruddock may not grab the headlines in the same manner as Leavy, O'Brien or van der Flier do, but he is hugely effective at what he does.

A quick glance at his stats backs up that claim. Only the freakish James Ryan, who plays as if he is an extra flanker, made more tackles than Ruddock's 27.

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Leinster's defence deserves huge credit for how they went about shutting down Glasgow's attacking threats and Ruddock set the tone in that regard as he regularly hammered off the line and chopped down the black jerseys.

"We did a lot of work on defence during the week," Stuart Lancaster revealed.

"If I'm being honest, that was the main focus. I'm delighted we got there in the end. Glasgow will be back and I still think they'll be there or thereabouts next year."

It wasn't just in defence that Ruddock impressed, however. The 28-year old also chipped in with 11 carries, while his subtle touch (as we highlighted above) to flick the ball back for Garry Ringrose was the sign of a player who is full of confidence right now.

"The back-row is so competitive," Lancaster acknowledged.

"Josh back from injury, Seánie couldn't play today, Dan Leavy's injury, Caelan Doris, Max Deegan and Scott Penny coming through - it's such a competitive position for Leinster.

"Rhys is not only a great player, he's a great leader and a great captain. He's very well respected by all the players and staff, his ability to turn up week-in, week-out and deliver top-end performances is a testament to his professionalism, mindset and character."

Peter O'Mahony will almost certainly start in the World Cup opener, but Ruddock will feel that he is pushing close for a place in the team.

His cause will be helped by how much credit he has with Schmidt, who has chosen him as captain. It would be no surprise if he does so again at some stage in Japan.

Speaking of big performances, Cian Healy delivered once again as he continues his remarkable comeback from an injury that, let's not forget, very nearly finished him.

In the same week that the loosehead was rewarded with a new contract, Healy was outstanding in all facets of play.

To not only have managed to play again after such a serious neck injury, but actually re-establish himself as one the best props in the world is a remarkable sporting story.

Healy's 28th-minute try proved decisive, while, like Ruddock, his work-rate around the pitch was relentless.

It says a lot about his form this season that Jack McGrath - who not that long ago had usurped Healy as Leinster and Ireland's first-choice loosehead - felt he was better off moving to Ulster rather than staying at home and scrapping it out.

As we are currently seeing with Rob Kearney's contract negotiations, the IRFU carefully assess the bigger picture when handing out new deals, so signing Healy on a new two-year contract spoke volumes for how important he remains to both club and country.

After a testing season for Irish rugby, Leinster finished it on an ideal note and although they have lost some key men along the way, the likes of Ruddock and Healy recapturing their best form is ideal for what is to come later this year.

Tactics talk: Leinster's comfort in chaos comes to the fore as they vary approach

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1. One of the biggest things that Stuart Lancaster has instilled at Leinster is ensuring that the players are “comfortable in chaos”.

His famed ‘Stuesday’ sessions in which the ball is in play for long periods at a high tempo has been key to that and after the front-row trio conjured up a stunning team try in the semi-final win over Munster, the impressive skill-set of the Leinster forwards was on show again in Glasgow.

Jack Conan is quickest to react to a loose ball before he fires it to Sean Cronin (red), who finds himself in midfield. The hooker instinctively plays a reverse pass for Tadhg Furlong (yellow), who has already scanned his options out wide.

 

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2. There are not many props in the world who would attempt an audacious 10-metre slinging pass, never mind execute it to perfection, but then again Furlong isn’t most props.

The Wexford native doesn’t think twice about the pass and what is interesting to note here is that Garry Ringrose is expecting Furlong to play it. It sets Leinster away up the left and they will feel that they should have taken advantage of a situation that was made possible by two of their front-rows linking so well.

 

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3. Despite the tricky weather conditions, Leinster stuck to their game-plan and continued to back their skills. After James Lowe’s clearance kick gets half blocked down, the players who are ahead of the ball are suddenly onside. Rhys Ruddock shows good awareness of the rules as he taps the ball back for Ringrose. Again, we are seeing how Leinster are constantly switched on and are able to click into gear in the blink of an eye.

 

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4. Ringrose makes good ground before linking with Johnny Sexton. It’s worth highlighting who the four Leinster players in support of Sexton and Ringrose are. Scott Fardy, Josh van der Flier, Ruddock and Furlong have shown remarkable work rate to keep with the backs and while Leinster probably should have scored from here, it is yet another example of how hard every man in blue works for each other.

Ireland continue to make massive strides on sevens circuit

As Jordan Conroy clocked up 37km/h to score a sensational try against Fiji, the dream for Ireland very nearly became a reality.

The Olympic gold medallists were pushed all the way by an Ireland team who once again proved that they are good enough to mix it with the best in the world.

Having beaten England and Scotland on the opening day of the London 7s, Ireland came unstuck in the quarter-final against Fiji - eventually losing out 33-24 - but they will certainly have taken a huge amount of confidence from the defeat as they continue to build for next season, when Anthony Eddy's side will play in the World Rugby Sevens Series.

Interestingly, Jack Daly became the first Kerry man to be capped by Ireland's sevens since Mick Galwey at the 1993 World Cup.

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