Ruddock was excellent in the seven shirt for Ireland last weekend. Inpho/Billy Stickland

Ruddock ready for Georgian power after starring in Boks beating

The Leinster flanker turned 24 today and now feels a settled part of Joe Schmidt’s group.

WATCHING RHYS RUDDOCK in action last weekend against South Africa, one wouldn’t have guessed that he had last worn the seven shirt in 2012.

A Pro12 meeting with Zebre was the 24-year-old’s most recent experience of starting at openside flanker for Leinster, while Saturday was his first outing in that role at senior international level.

A late call-up to the starting team after Chris Henry was ruled out, Ruddock delivered in spades. Eight carries, a shedload of ruck work and 14 tackles justified Joe Schmidt’s faith in the Leinster back row.

“I sort of got my head around playing seven nice and early,” says Ruddock.

I knew I was going to be covering there from the bench anyway, so I was able to narrow my focus and concentrate on that role. By around lunch time or so, I was really looking forward to the game.”

As for switching from his usual blindside flank to the openside, Ruddock took it in his stride.

“I suppose there are some major differences. I think you’re a lot more in the action at seven, whereas a six would maybe hold on certain plays. The seven seems to be the one doing all the folding, getting around the corner and linking with the backs.

“I think it kind of suits me – I like to work hard and get through a lot of work, so I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I thought it would.”

Rhys Ruddock scores a try Ruddock crossed for a try in the second half against the Boks. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Ruddock’s strong display was topped off by a second-half try from a clever Ireland mauling effort, with the back row joking, “I thought it was all me!” before explaining the pleasure Simon Easterby’s pack had taken from that effort.

“I didn’t have to do much for it and it was a well-worked maul. I suppose it’s the ones that you practice and they come off like that and you get an easy run to the tryline, I think I was just grateful to be playing seven and the one on the back of it.”

Next up for Ruddock is impressing against Georgia on Sunday in Dublin, a challenge for which he feels well prepared. The flanker captained Emerging Ireland in the 2013 Tbilisi Cup, where they beat the Georgians 20-15.

The main thing I remember from playing them is the physicality,” recalls Ruddock. “They bring linespeed in defence and that sort of betrays their attitude. They want to get up and meet you head on, win the collisions and that shows the pride they have in playing for their nation.

“The whole pack is pretty much all playing in France and has a wealth of experience. They’ll look to dominate the set-piece and at the breakdown, where they’ve got real threats on the ball who can punish you if you don’t get your roles right.”

Ruddock insists that Ireland have genuine “respect” for Sunday’s opposition, with Schmidt having brought the players back to ground after the pleasure of beating the Boks last weekend.

Against a powerful Georgian side, Irish supporters will be looking forward to more of Schmidt’s intelligent attacking power plays, with Ruddock suggesting “we’ll have some ways to break them down.”

Rhys Ruddock 12/11/2014 Ruddock is feeling far more settled in the Ireland group now. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

On a personal level, the Leinster powerhouse feels “a lot more settled” as part of the Ireland group, having turned 24 today and now with four senior caps. He admits he would be content to play anywhere across the back row, although he is “happiest playing six and have most experience there.”

Wherever Schmidt uses him this weekend, Ruddock can be counted on to meet the Georgians with great hunger.

They have a lot of pride in playing for their country and a lot of pride in being a real physical outfit who can take anyone on, especially up front,” says Ruddock.

“I definitely think you have to meet it head on, especially early in the game. Don’t let them build confidence in their strengths.

“The reality is that we didn’t perform to the best of our ability on the weekend. There’s more left and the focus now is on getting that out this weekend.”

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