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'Being labelled as captain is not enough, I'll be judged on how I perform'

Rhys Ruddock has been handed the captaincy, but the flanker knows he must do more than lead from the front in the fight for World Cup places.
Aug 10th 2019, 8:30 AM 9,699 8

RHYS RUDDOCK FINDS himself in something of a peculiar position as he prepares to lead Ireland out at the Aviva Stadium this afternoon.

While he has captained both Ireland and Leinster before, Ruddock has again been handed the responsibility by Joe Schmidt for the first World Cup warm-up against Italy, yet he is not assured of his place in the squad for Japan.

Rhys Ruddock Ruddock is ready to captain Ireland. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The tussle for those final back row berths looks set to go down to the wire and Ruddock, along with Tommy O’Donnell and Jordi Murphy, are all vying for a World Cup ticket over the coming weeks. 

Ruddock finished the season strongly for Leinster, starting at six in their Pro14 semi-final and final wins over Munster and Glasgow Warriors, having also helped Leo Cullen’s side to back-to-back Champions Cup finals.

He is more than deserving of his starting berth at blindside against Italy later, in what will be his first international appearance since captaining Ireland in the November victory over USA last year.

With time running out to persuade the coaches he is the man for the job, Ruddock will hope to do more than just lead from the front at the Aviva Stadium, but also leave his mark on the game.

“In the back of your mind, you know the importance and the meaning of putting in a performance as an individual,” he says. “But the message has been clear from the coaches and everyone has bought into it, that the way we progress as individuals is by performing as a team.

“Everyone is in the same boat. We’re all excited to get the opportunity, to put on the jersey, lay down a marker for what we’re about as a group leading into the World Cup.”

The fact Schmidt has come back to Ruddock with the captaincy is, he says, a positive but the 21-time capped international knows that will count for nothing if he can’t produce a performance and fulfil his role within the team.

“I think I’ll be judged on my performance at the weekend and what I bring to the team, and if leadership helps, if it’s another string to my bow or helps add value to the group then I suppose that will work in my favour,” he continues.

“But I don’t think being labelled as captain is enough, I’ll be judged on how I perform on Saturday, and what I add to the group, and how I, as well as others in the group, lead — some of the more experienced players, they lead the group as well and make sure they bring the best out of everyone.”

Four years ago, Ruddock was in a completely different place. Having been given the chance to press his claims for Schmidt’s World Cup squad by captaining Emerging Ireland against Uruguay, the flanker’s hopes evaporated after breaking his right arm for the second time in six months. 

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Rhys Ruddock During yesterday's captain's run at the Aviva. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Schmidt later confirmed Ruddock would have been in his training panel and although he subsequently recovered to be drafted in as injury cover for the quarter-final defeat to Argentina, it wasn’t exactly the World Cup experience he had been hoping for.

This time around, Ruddock is grateful to be fit and firing as he looks to give himself every chance of earning a place from the start.

“At the time I thought that my World Cup chances were over but I got to get out there in the end,” he recalls.

“I suppose I was fortunate because I’d obviously worked with Joe a huge amount and played alongside pretty much all of the players within the group a lot but I suppose it was strange enough coming in that late on in the tournament. I was lucky in that I’d already had a huge amount of time with that group and knew what was expected of me going in. 

“Just to be fit and give myself a shot this time around, I’m here and I’ve been given an opportunity on Saturday like everybody else in the group to go out and put the best foot forward and show what we’re about as a group.

“There’s been a lot of hard work from the playing group and the coaching staff, conditioners, everyone. It’s amazing the amount of detail they have put in, trying to make us better, from every single player in the group. It would be a nice justification for all of the hard work if we can put in a good performance.”

And it goes without saying that World Cup selection is firmly on Ruddock’s mind, even if he doesn’t let himself overthink it.

“I don’t think there is any benefit,” he says of stressing of who is going and who is going to miss out. “I’ve learned that the importance of managing your energy, when you’re playing rugby, is that mental stuff.

You can’t stress yourself out too much about things you can’t control. It gets beyond tiring, probably more tiring than the training, if you do.

“I can’t speak for everyone else but I feel I’m quite good at parking that. It is completely out of my control. The only thing I can have an effect on is how I perform, how I train, how I carry myself.

“I’m going to try my best, as long as I’m here, to focus all my energy and effort into that and try and enjoy it as much as I can as well.”

The42 Rugby Weekly is back as we get ready for next month’s World Cup. Murray, Gavan and Bernard Jackman get us started by looking ahead to this weekend’s opening warm-up game against Italy.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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