Fogarty heaps praise on 'calm head' Ruddock as Ulster loom
Before a ball was kicked this season, injuries aside, it was going to take quite an impressive run of form to dislodge what looked like a settled Irish back-row for the November series.
Such were the performances of Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander on the Lions tour, they looked to be the front-runners to start against South Africa but Rhys Ruddock's form has been too good to ignore.
Ruddock has long been a favourite of Joe Schmidt. He captained Ireland on the summer tour and he has kicked on again since the start of the season with some outstanding performances for Leinster.
Leo Cullen's wealth of back-row options have been well documented and while injuries to the likes of O'Brien, Dan Leavy and now Josh van der Flier have opened the door, Ruddock is arguably one of the first names on the team-sheet nowadays.
"Rhys has been very, very good for us for the last couple of weeks," scrum coach John Fogarty said of the 26-year old.
"He has been incredibly good and has given us go-forward and carries. But more than that Rhys is incredibly controlled on the field.
"He is cueing to lads when situations are high tempo or things get out of hand, he is a really, really calm head, really, really calm voice so, certainly, Rhys could step up and be well capable of performing."
Ruddock has always been a strong ball carrier but he looks to have added more of a dynamic edge to his game this season.
"Rhys when he came through first he was like a man-child almost," Fogarty explained.
"Physically he was very big and he was punching holes. Teams recognise threats when they play against them and he would have been seen as a threat in the carry and I think teams tightened up on him.
"Maybe he got stopped a bit more and wasn't getting that same go-forward. The type of lines he is running and that late footwork at the line has helped him and his offload. So he has developed his game with ball in hand.
"He gives a hundred per cent commitment through everything he does so you will see him turn up every time in defence as well. Rhys has been excellent for us.
"Maybe he did have a little dip but he has adapted, changed his game slightly and we are getting the benefit.
"Rhys is very good technically to get off the ground so when he jumps his jump shape is excellent. So he gives a really good platform through the air and he doesn't compromise himself on the way down either. So we can drive off him quite well.
"His line running and his footwork late on the line has probably been something that he has added to his game though this season that has been quite impressive."
Ulster are next up for Leinster tomorrow. Les Kiss's men were hammered by a hugely impressive La Rochelle side in France last Sunday but Fogarty is refusing to read too much into the result.
"La Rochelle was tough and they will be annoyed coming home," he added.
"They were dealing with a juggernaut pack. It was a tough ask. We came undone last year going over to Montpellier to take on a big pack. They have been excellent in their opening six games. Technically, you can see they are sharp in what they're doing.
"Their drills are really, really good. Scrum, lineout and maul, they are really tight and really good. Jono (Gibbes) brings that level of excellence to what he does.
"They will be really, really up for it, regardless of the results we've had or they've had.
"A lot of that goes out the window when you play against the neighbouring province. It is going to be very difficult. Technically, they are very good at what they do.
"We need to be mentally right before we go up there. That is something we'll pick up later in the week. We're fixing bits now. Later in the week, we need to make sure we arrive ready for a battle."