| 15.4°C Dublin

Leinster can expect Rhys lightning to strike again

Close

Rhys Ruddock is tackled by Tim Swiel, left, and Matt Hooper during Leinster's Champions Cup clash with Harlequins in which the Irish international suffered an injury

Rhys Ruddock is tackled by Tim Swiel, left, and Matt Hooper during Leinster's Champions Cup clash with Harlequins in which the Irish international suffered an injury

SPORTSFILE

Rhys Ruddock is tackled by Tim Swiel, left, and Matt Hooper during Leinster's Champions Cup clash with Harlequins in which the Irish international suffered an injury

There were a few names that grabbed the attention in Joe Schmidt's Irish panel announced last week and, leaving Jack Conan's selection aside, from a Leinster point of view, the names of Messrs O'Brien, Healy and Ruddock stood out. All at varying levels of recovery but a pleasant surprise that three of Leinster's main ball-carriers were finally in the mix after varying degrees of injury frustration.

For Rhys Ruddock, the fractured forearm could not have come at a worse time and arguably during his best season yet in Leinster colours.

"I actually think that last year I made huge strides in terms of my performance levels for Leinster and obviously I played in the Six Nations against Italy and again in the summer tour, but definitely this season was about carrying that form and that momentum with me and I think I have done that.

"So in that regard it was frustrating to be honest to pick up the injury at a time when I felt I was going well and then you are hoping that you will heal quickly to just get back out there."

Prognosis

The injury itself was similar to that suffered by Ben Te'o and the original prognosis was good but four weeks in a cast was a challenge.

"The first four weeks were the worst. In the cast above the elbow and having to find alternative ways to keep fit and active. A lot of bike work and lower limb weights but the last couple of weeks have been really good and I am starting to make progress towards the ultimate goal which is to play for Leinster again."

A quick look at the cast during that time would also show the level to which professional athletes can now be aided in their recovery.

"The cast itself had an opening I suppose you'd call it and that allowed for ultrasound treatment on the arm without compromising the cast or the positioning of the arm. It was to stimulate bone healing and I gave it a go and hopefully it will stand to me and the arm will be as strong as ever."

The cast is now off and he is back training. The relief is palpable as he loves being back, albeit in an empty Leinster HQ.

"Yeah, everyone is off this week so it's a bit odd being around but it's just great to be back in the gym or doing stuff on the pitch without the cast and that holding me back. But I am dying to get going again and the recovery will certainly get easier from now on in. I hope that I get the chance to show that a few weeks out haven't hindered my performance levels and that I can take up where I left off."

Up until the injury he had played in all four of Leinster's Champions Cup games, had featured in five Guinness Pro12 games and had played in two of Ireland's autumn Tests. Both Matt O'Connor and Joe Schmidt obviously liked what they saw.

"Again I think last season was the big factor and I gained a lot of confidence from the way I played and the fact that Matt and Joe had faith in me. The game time I got with Leinster and the opportunities with Ireland meant that I was more comfortable and going out there week in and week out, and playing in the big games, just brings you on hugely."

Though only 24, he has been name-checked by other more established members of the Leinster squad as being a leader. Has he taken a conscious decision to step into that role?

"I never really tried to have that leadership influence especially if I didn't feel that I had earned it so I suppose being more comfortable and playing more and being happy with how I was playing, I have maybe started talking more but I don't think it's a conscious decision, you just feel your way into it. But I think it's only natural the more time you spend in the jersey."

Leadership material perhaps, but what of the criticism? It is one thing for the more established players to hear it, does it affect the younger players within the camp?

"I know it's the cliché but I honestly don't read the papers, but of course you pick up on stuff from mates and what not. But to be honest you back the environment that Matt has built in here and that we drive as players. We have an excellent culture and that too can act as a bit of a shield.

"Don't get me wrong, we have an environment that is very driven and we demand high standards of each other so, believe me, there is no harsher critic than ourselves but that stays between these four walls of the club. We have looked long and hard at why the performances weren't quite there but I think in the last six weeks or so we have seen things come together.

"You will always have blips and off days like against Munster but why did that happen? As long as we learn from it as our focus turns to the next game, then it's been worthwhile. To be fair to the lads, they have done that over that time and I think we deserve to be where we are. There is a massive carrot there for us."

Consolidate

Where they are is a quarter-final meeting with Bath in the Champions Cup in the Aviva. Before that there is also the small matter of trying to consolidate their top four Pro12 position while the internationals are away. The focus in that regard is on the Dragons.

"We always emphasise this period in the season as being of critical importance. Last year during the four games of the Six Nations we won all the games. It gives an opportunity to the younger lads or those that haven't had much game time, to show what they can do and press their case.

"For me, it's great to have that focus of a game again. Have a date in my mind knowing that it is within touching distance. I want to prove myself again. I know they are also looking at that game as a return date for Zane and even for Cian and Seanie to be involved, so we'll see. There is plenty of rugby and training to be played between now and then but it would be nice to run out in the RDS for my return game."

Irish Independent