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13th Nov 2014

Birthday boy Rhys Ruddock expecting no gifts from Georgia

The Leinster flanker is happy covering any of the back row slots this weekend

Patrick McCarry

Rhys Ruddock turned 24 today but it feels as if he has been around for years. The flanker made his Leinster debut in 2009 and was tipped for rapid progression into the Irish team.

Ruddock captained Ireland U20 to Six Nations success in March 2009 and earned his first Test cap a year later against the Wallabies. However, injuries, a dip in form and confidence saw him slip down the back row pecking order. Joe Schmidt used him regularly in league matches for Leinster but often selected Kevin McLaughlin and Shane Jennings as blindside and back row cover in the Heineken Cup.

The flanker, son of former Ireland U20 and Wales coach Mike Ruddock, was superb for Matt O’Connor’s Leinster last season and forced his way into the international reckoning. He featured off the bench against Italy in March, started against Argentina in the summer. On Saturday he received an early birthday present and was unexpectedly thrown in from the start against South Africa.

Ruddock arrived down for breakfast at the Shelbourne Hotel and discovered he would be starting in a less familiar openside role against the second best team in work rugby. His initial reaction was concern for team-mate Chris Henry, who had suffered from a severe migraine overnight. Starting in the No.7 jersey, he says, did not faze him, ‘I knew I was covering openside from the bench anyway so I was able to narrow my focus and concentrate on that role and by lunchtime I was really looking forward to it.’

Ruddock was one of the litany of Irish players to run afoul of rampaging Springbok Marcell Coetzee in the early stages of their 29-15 win. He warmed to the openside task, however, and provided Schmidt with another option for the coming 12 months, and beyond. A try after 43 minutes set Ireland on their way to a win that satisfied Ruddock, even if he was not pleased with the overall team performance. ‘I didn’t have much to do for the try,’ he admitted.

‘It was a well worked maul and I suppose those are the ones you practice and when they come off like that you get easy trot into the try line. I think I was just grateful to be the one playing No.7 and on the back of it.’

Like Dominic Ryan, who is also hoping to feature against Georgia this Sunday, Ruddock was forced to bide his time behind Leinster’s proven match-winners. He discussed the early career stall with his father before focusing on his role as a squad player who would grab each chance when it arose. ‘ I decided that what I could learn in Ireland was more beneficial than me going elsewhere and maybe getting more game time,’ he said. The decision paid off and another strong outing against Australia could put him in the starting from for the 2015 Six Nations and World Cup.

Ruddock has past history with the Georgians. He featured with Emerging Ireland as they beat their hosts in the 2013 Tibilisi Cup. ‘It was a real physical encounter and probably our toughest game,’ he said. ‘If anything, I gained the experience of what it’s like to play against a Georgian team who have a lot of pride playing for their country and pride in being a physical outfit who can take anyone on, especially up front. It will be a big challenge.’

As for his newly acquired No.7 jersey, Ruddock declares he is happy to play in any of the three back row positions. ‘I guess it’s a case of wherever the opportunity lies. I’m probably happiest playing at six but I have been grateful for the chance at openside and should it be six, seven or eight, I’d be delighted to pick up any of the slots really.’

Hat-tip Word in Sport.

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