Monday 14 October 2019

Victor Costello: 'Ruddock should have been made captain to give Sexton space to rediscover top form'

Rhys Ruddock has shown he is a true leader through his performances. Photo: Sportsfile
Rhys Ruddock has shown he is a true leader through his performances. Photo: Sportsfile

Victor Costello

Through the decades, Murrayfield as a stadium was and is only at its best during the Six Nations.

The stadium is steeped in history with years of international games, but at club level has rarely, if ever, been full.

When travelling there as a supporter, the goal is to make your presence felt in the vast stadium and as a player, the focus is always on the outcome and never on the process as the environment never lends itself to hysteria or passion.

Last weekend, for Leinster the outcome was more about the rejuvenation of recently unavailable and injured players rather than the need for a points haul for the PRO14 table.

With Ireland still licking their wounds and still in the post-Six Nations debrief zone, the search for reprieve and hope continued for the season.

By their own high standards Leinster let last weekend's game slip through their hands.

For the first 30 minutes they were in complete control and the grasp they had on the game reminded us of the dominance of previous seasons.

Then, after some unforced errors, Edinburgh got back into the game.

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Structures

Scottish rugby is definitely on the up. At senior level their structures are fresh and their creativity and belief is improving with every game.

For years as a rugby nation we have admired those clubs and countries that have been able to brush off defeat in their relative competitions and still compete for the bigger prize.

The French have been masters at it for years and their performances in the Six Nations in a World Cup year have never affected their World Cup psyche or ambition.

This has never been the Irish mentality as confidence and momentum have been paramount to the right attitudes and performance at the World Cup.

Furthermore, due to commercial pressure and ambition within the power-brokers of the game, there is always a need to win the next game at all costs, no matter the competition or opposition.

This position with the corporate influence has had a positive effect on Irish rugby for years but for this season it has had a negative effect on what has been a watershed Six Nations.

If you look at Leinster last week, the loss against Edinburgh was immaterial.

In reality, they were able to forego the result of the game and use it as a training-ground scenario.

The result was never paramount, the individual performances were.

Never before in the history of Irish rugby has a coach or manager been able to think this way.

In fact, you could see it as a new dawn in the Irish game if the rugby community took a wider and more pragmatic view as Leinster's loss away last weekend will have no negative bearing or impact on the their readiness this weekend.

As a nation we are not that experienced just yet to consistently expect to compete in the semi-finals or finals of the World Cup but at provincial level our experience and confidence over the last decade or so keeps us there or thereabouts every season.

It is vital at this current stage of the season that Leinster get their players back to winning ways.

No doubt under normal circumstances they would be confident of beating Ulster at home in the comfort of the Aviva Stadium and expectation this weekend will be high, but Ulster will expect some fallout in form from Leinster's Six Nations representatives.

This is where Leo Cullen will come into play.

He will know the mindset from being around his players recently but also draw from his own playing and leadership experiences.

Cullen and his management team will have to get the balance right in selection.

The most critical part will be to ensure that his side don't carry mental baggage into this weekend.

They will have to provide a platform for their players to get back to form but also pick players in form.

With this in mind the management might have to look at the leadership of the team.

Rehabilitation

The rehabilitation of Luke McGrath, Fergus McFadden, Dan Leavy and Rhys Ruddock is a huge boost to the province.

None of these international players featured in the Six Nations, yet all will be very much in contention for the World Cup.

With some the talk this week of the two captains Rory Best and Johnny Sexton going head-to-head, it may be appropriate to give the captaincy to Ruddock.

Neither Best nor Sexton have shown leadership qualities recently and it would be more beneficial to Leinster to make this call and allow Sexton to get back to his World Player of the Year form.

It has been blatantly obvious that when Best's core job in the lineout goes wayward, so does his leadership and the rest of his game.

This will be something the Leinster pack will surely have in their armoury as set-piece performance will be crucial.

As captain or pack leader, Ruddock is a true leader in his performances and manner and this is an area Leinster can have the edge in from the off.

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