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We hope our display against Toulouse made a statement - Ruddock

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Rhys Ruddock. Photo: Sportsfile

Rhys Ruddock. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Rhys Ruddock. Photo: Sportsfile

All week Leinster had spoken about the importance of a fast start and laying down an early marker.

Garry Ringrose set the tone right from kick-off when his strong carry signalled the champions' intent to take the game to Toulouse.

Two minutes later, off the back of a powerful Ross Byrne burst, Ringrose made a half-break before off-loading perfectly to the on-rushing Rhys Ruddock, who had run a brilliant support line following a scrum at the opposite side of the pitch.

The captain shrugged off Antoine Dupont like a rag doll and bulldozed his way up field. Suddenly, Leinster were on the edge of the Toulouse 22.

It was a sign of things to come from Leo Cullen's ruthlessly efficient side, and the players who linked up so well in that move - Ringrose and Ruddock - were front and central to Leinster's stunning victory.

While Ringrose brought a touch of class, with and without the ball, Ruddock added an edge to a dominant pack, who worked tirelessly. That work-rate was typified by Ruddock, who finished the game having made 20 carries and 15 tackles.

Motivation

With so much of the focus on the players who were missing for Leinster rather than the ones who took to the pitch, there was added motivation to overcome the French side in front of a sold-out RDS crowd.

"We hope that performance will send a statement because of how good Toulouse are and how well they showed up," Ruddock says.

"They gave us nothing cheap. We were battering away for phase-after-phase, thinking 'something has got to give'.

"For weeks now, after the game away, then just following their progress, we always looked at this match and knew how important it was going to be, also how difficult it was going to be, the way they've been going in both competitions.

"We knew the challenge we were facing and had a really good couple of weeks of training.

"It was nice that most of what we worked on, we stuck to. We were pretty composed in that sense."

Composure was key to the victory that saw Leinster leapfrog Toulouse at the top of the pool and take control of their own destiny.

No other team in Europe can start a pool decider without 10 internationals and with a back-line with an average age of just 24, yet still convincingly beat a good French team with a bonus point.

"It wasn't like lads were pulling out late or anything like that, we'd had really quality preparation going into it," Ruddock points out.

"Obviously, we were missing a lot of quality operators. When you look at the guys who are in there instead, they are also top-class international players.

"If you look at missing Johnny (Sexton) - that was a big one - there is the quality that Ross brings. I have to say he was awesome.

"At times, it felt like we were wondering how we were going to break down this team.

"Ross seemed to always have a plan and the half-backs, they really directed us around. It was just a case of listening to them and digging in."

The page has been quickly turned in UCD as preparations for Sunday's trip to Coventry in search of a win that would seal a home quarter-final, ramp up.

Leinster do not have happy memories of going to the Ricoh Arena however. Back in 2016, they were hammered 51-10, so just like it was last weekend, revenge is very much on the cards.

Ringrose didn't feature in that heavy defeat three years ago, but Ruddock did and in fact, that was the last time the versatile flanker started a game in the second-row.

"No doubt it will be a tougher game, that's my lasting memory of going over there so that was a pretty dark day at the office," Ruddock recalls.

"They were quality that day and we probably played within ourselves a bit so yeah, there is definitely lessons to be learned from that and I'm sure it would be no harm to review that game and have a look at what we can expect going to their home patch."

For Ringrose, this weekend is a chance to help Ruddock and those who were involved on that 'dark day' to banish those painful memories and at the same time, set up a last-eight clash at the Aviva.

"They play a bit differently but they have threats right across the team," the mercurial centre insists.

"It all starts again now. If we want to win again that will be what we are aiming for. How we start the week determines how we finish it at the weekend.

"The players will be well aware of that and the challenge it is to play over there. I wasn't playing there a few years ago but I remember Leinster going to Wasps and it isn't a nice memory. The guys who came back really didn't enjoy that at all.

"We're well aware that if you don't turn up in the right frame of mind and play well that that's what can happen to you.

"It was a thumping that Leinster got there. That will be in the back of our minds as well."

Irish Independent