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Ruddock fit and flexible as he leads Leinster into new campaign

After coming out of a difficult period of injury smiling, Ruddock is the perfect foil to lead Leinster alongside Johnny Sexton.

Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

THE SECOND HALF of last season was a troublesome one for Rhys Ruddock, but his short list of appearances from December to May are testament to his character.

Leinster’s newly appointed vice-captain suffered a serious hamstring injury during a gruelling win away to Exeter in December and so missed out of a role in Ireland’s Grand Slam.

While that international drama was unfolding, Ruddock was busying himself by putting in an immense shift behind closed doors leaving Stuart Lancaster sounding like a man whose jaw had been freshly lifted off the floor as he noted Ruddock had “done one of the best fitness tests that we’ve ever had from a forward”.

After eating through his rehab programme without salt, Ruddock earned a place in the matchday squad for the Champions Cup quarter-final win over Saracens. Rather than slump back bemoaning a loss of momentum from of a hamstring niggle in his comeback match, Ruddock revved himself up again to take a place on the bench in Bilbao before providing an invaluable fresh body in Leinster’s back row for the Pro14 semi-final and final victories.

There was no tour to Australia with Ireland, but for the long-term good of his hamstrings that is easily viewed as a positive.

“I think the break came at a good time for me, I was able to go away and do some training which I don’t get a chance to do with the rugby,” Ruddock said as he led Leinster’s launch of their new jersey at Life Style Sports.

“It was more yoga and mobility stuff that I’d probably be lacking. So I kind of got my body back to baseline in the time off and as a result of being able to train fully since day one I’m feeling fit and ready to go.

“It’s been nice to get that little window to do that.”

Approaching veteran status, the back row’s mindset makes his pre-injury form his focal point rather than lament any sort of bad luck with the injury that book-ends it. Tonight, he will hope to pick up where he left off as Leinster head to Montauban for the first of their two pre-season matches. His positional flexibility will put him into action as an openside while his newest team-mate Joe Tomane will line up in the centre.

Though Leinster’s squad remains stacked with quality, they have lost a great wealth of experience through the retirement of Isa Nacewa and Jamie Heaslip – last season’s captain and vice captain – and Jordi Murphy’s move north.

There was no surprise earlier this week when Ruddock was named as his province’s new vice captain behind Jonathan Sexton. He has earned his stripes. But the more Ruddock speaks about his out-half, the more the 27-year-old comes across as the perfect foil for Sexton’s fiery brand of leadership.

“I see him as the most passionate about Leinster and the success of the team, success of the club and future of the club,” Ruddock says of his skipper.

Jonathan Sexton and Rhys Ruddock Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“That’s possibly why you see some of that (irate on-field demeanour), because ultimately he’s the most competitive and driven to win and ultimately wants the best for the team…

“Aside from that, the values and the way he lives day-to-day, is an example to set to any young player. He’s the consummate professional, the way he looks after himself  and the detail he puts into his game and how he also brings others along with him.”

People around Leinster clearly feel the same is true for Ruddock. The back row is honoured to be considered in the same sort of company.

“I was thrilled to be thought of as a person to do that job — I found out just from speaking to Leo, I kind of had conversations over the last few years, being captain with Leinster on a number of occasions and I had the captaincy with Ireland a few times as well.

“So improving my leadership skills and hopefully developing into more of a leader within the group was something that I’d been keen to do for a while.

“It just developed from that. Leo spoke to me, told me that his plan was Johnny as captain, myself as vice captain. I was thrilled on both fronts, because it’s a massive honour for me personally, but also to see Johnny – who I think is the right man for the job. If anyone can take over Isa’s mantle and bring us forward, it’s Johnny with his commitment to the club and his passion for Leinster.”

Sexton’s big return to action is still around six weeks away, but Ruddock is very much ready to go and put a shape on the early weeks of Leinster’s season.

“My goal is not to ease myself in or take my time, it’s to hit the ground running,” the 27-year-old says.

Rhys Ruddock, Dan Leavy and Joe Tomane Ruddock pictured at the launch of the 2018/19 Leinster Rugby home and alternate jersey, to join the conversation and discover the design inspiration for the jerseys, follow @lifestylesportsrugby and #LIVELEINSTER. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“If you’re not right to play, then you shouldn’t be playing. Once you’re ready, you’ve got to go for it. I just find that if you hold anything back, you’ll be found out.

“I feel like I have put enough in over the last few months to get my body to where it needs to be to perform. Hopefully, that is the case but I’m not worried about any injuries. I feel good.”

Leinster (pre-season v Montauban)

15. James Lowe
14. Adam Byrne
13. Rory O’Loughlin
12. Joe Tomane
11. Barry Daly
10. Noel Reid
9. Nick McCarthy

1. Peter Dooley
2. Bryan Byrne
3. Michael Bent
4. Ross Molony
5. Ian Nagle
6. Josh Murphy
7. Rhys Ruddock (Capt)
8. Max Deegan

Replacements

16. James Tracy
17. Ed Byrne
18. Vakh Abdaladze
19. Mick Kearney
20. Will Connors
21. Jamison Gibson-Park
22. Jimmy O’Brien
23. Dave Kearney
24. Oisín Dowling
25. Conor O’Brien
26. Tom Daly
27. Jack Kelly
28. Gavin Mullin

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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