Ruddock: Academy system in Leinster is on 'another level'
Now in his eighth year with the province, Rhys Ruddock has seen plenty of players come and go through the revolving door at Leinster, yet the rate at which the Academy continues to produce exceptional talents doesn't surprise him.
With the likes of Dan Leavy and Jack Conan really stepping up their performances this season, Ruddock's time on the sidelines with a quad injury was frustrating but now back to full fitness, he is eager to ensure that he is in contention when the international players return for the crucial run-in.
Ruddock saw any hopes he had of forcing himself into Joe Schmidt's Six Nations plans scuppered, but ask him about his Ireland ambitions and they are firmly being put to one side for now as the level of competition in Leinster's back-row is unprecedented.
"Since I have been involved - I have experienced a few other environments - I feel the Academy here is unbelievably strong," he said.
"People who go elsewhere will say the same thing. What we have here is a different level. It has always been producing quality players. Those come to fruition later on.
"Some guys, 21 or 22, have a lot of experience already playing at this level when the internationals are away. It is a case of you have to step-up and keep the ship sailing in the right direction."
Last season's disappointments are but a distant memory around UCD nowadays. Stuart Lancaster's influence has been key while so too has the fact that the younger players who underperformed last year have plenty of more game-time at this level under their belts.
"The young guys stepping up has definitely helped, especially in this period," Ruddock agreed.
"Last year, at the same time, we really struggled. We only won one of the four games.
"So far, we are three from three and three bonus points. There are a lot of things we are doing better this year. Our defence is different. Our attack. . . we're scoring a lot more tries.
"We set ourselves a goal to get four from four and this weekend will probably be the biggest challenge of the lot."
Scarlets arrive in Dublin tomorrow on the back of a stunning comeback win in Limerick last weekend as the Welsh side look to narrow the eight-point gap that Leinster have over them.
"It amplifies what we already knew having had such a challenging game against them away already," Ruddock said.
"They are a side we've been really impressed by. This season, they are probably performing better than ever. We already knew this game would be a massive challenge for us.
"Seeing that result (against Munster) and knowing how difficult it is to get a result in Munster, at the moment, makes us even more on our toes.
"On a personal level, it has been a good time for me to develop one or two things that were lacking - the reasons why I was getting injured.
"I had surgery on my ankle in the summer. At the time, it felt good. But, I ended up I picking up soft tissue injuries, calf and quad injuries. The underlying issue was the ankle.
"I spent a lot of time on that in rehab and developing strength in areas that had gotten weak. Physically, that was the main thing. I feel a lot better for it."