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Rhys Ruddock puts his hand up with powerful performance for Ireland

The 28-year-old was named man of the match against Russia yesterday.

THE MAN OF the match award wasn’t the most difficult choice last night in Kobe.

While Russia flanker Tagir Gadzhiev impressed once again, Ireland’s 35-0 victory made it inevitable that someone in a green jersey would collect the gong and there was one clear leading contender.

Rhys Ruddock, having last started a game in Ireland’s first World Cup warm-up win over Italy all the way back on 10 August, made a major impression in the number six shirt.

rhys-ruddock-celebrates-after-the-game Ruddock was man of the match in Kobe. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The 28-year-old has never consistently been a first-choice player under Schmidt with Ireland, instead often captaining the team against weaker opposition, but his energetic and impactful showing against the Russians was impossible to ignore.

Ruddock led by example with his muscular performance, often driving Ireland over the gainline with his carrying and setting a tone in defence with his powerful tackling.

The Leinster man made 11 carries for 48 metres in total, his average of 4.4 metres per carry making him the most impactful of any forward.

That total was accentuated by the second-half break below, as Ruddock identified replacement tighthead Vladimir Podrezov in the defensive line – a relatively immobile defender – and accelerated into space.

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Ruddock’s bust comes from an excellent Peter O’Mahony lineout steal, with Russia forced to switch into defensive mode from their own throw.

It’s a case of simple stuff done well from Ruddock. He initially carries the ball in two hands, hinting at a pass, before using his footwork to step back to the inside of Russia out-half Ramil Gaisin, injecting a real change-up into his carry as he accelerates.

Ruddock tucks the ball into his right arm, rather than opting to fend Podrezov as he accelerates, but hitches out of the despairing tackle attempt for a clean linebreak. 

Highlighting one of Ireland’s issues in this game, they concede a breakdown turnover just phases later.

Ruddock showed consistent fight both in the carry and post-carry in this game, as demonstrated below in his very first surge of the game.

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Jordi Murphy moves the ball onto Ruddock here so it’s not a one-out carry and, again, we see that change-up from Ruddock in using his footwork and acceleration to get outside the defender in front of him [Gaisin].

Russian wing German Davydov has to commit inwards to the tackle on Ruddock but now we see his fight to ride the hit and continue moving upfield, then continue that fight on the ground, demonstrating the kind of ‘bodyball’ that Schmidt craves from his players.

Ruddock wriggles and adjusts on the ground post-tackle to ensure he’s not open to being turned over, before presenting clean ball back to scrum-half Luke McGrath.

Of course, Ruddock had a first-half try too, when he also showed fight to get across the line.

Try

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The clearout from Dave Kilcoyne [red below] on the left of the ruck preceding Ruddock’s score is important, pinning Russia lock Andrey Garbuzov down into the ruck and ensuring he can’t bounce back into the defensive line after a sniff at the breakdown.

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O’Mahony arrives to the ball at the base of the ruck and appears set to pick and carry himself.

The Russian defender closest to the ruck, Victor Gresev, is therefore worried about that threat and is wholly focused on O’Mahony [yellow below], as well as being in an offside position.

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Instead of carrying himslf, O’Mahony pops a simple pass off the deck to Ruddock, who has already been pre-bound onto by tighthead prop John Ryan [white below].

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Ryan latches on early to ensure Ireland are going to have additional power in the carry in what will initially be a 2v1 situation.

Ruddock surges into opposite number Anton Sychev and is perhaps lucky not to be penalised for leading with his forearm and elbow here [white below], particularly given that such play is a hot topic in the wake of Australia centre Samu Kerevi being pinged for it against Wales.

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The match officials aren’t interested, however, and the combined power of Ruddock and Ryan is obvious as they immediately motor towards the tryline.

Gadzhiev does his best to rescue the situation, diving in low on Ruddock’s legs [yellow below].

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But the value of Ryan’s early latch is clear again as he helps Ruddock to keep moving towards the tryline even as his legs are taken out by Gadzhiev, with O’Mahony arriving in to help them seal the deal as Ruddock dots down.

“I enjoy that part of the game,” said Ryan of his latch. “The ball was a bar of soap so I just let Rhys carry it and I said I’d just carry him!

“He came up to me afterwards in the dressing room and said thanks and Pete was on the other side of him as well, giving a helping hand, so there was six feet moving there.”

Ruddock’s ability to get Ireland over the gainline with his carrying in this game was complemented by an excellent defensive performance in which he completed all 13 of his tackle attempts and made a real impact in several of them. 

While Ruddock can jump in the lineout, he was not used to do so by Ireland against Russia, instead being utilised as a decoy or lifter and dropping out of the set-piece when they shortened their numbers.

Otherwise, Ruddock was largely effective at ruck time and completed three passes, but it was his ball-carrying game and lack of errors that impressed most.

“It’s a special feeling,” said Ruddock of being named man of the match, “especially in front of all these fans who made a lot of noise.”

rhys-ruddock-scores-their-third-try-of-the-game-supported-by-john-ryan-and-peter-omahony Ruddock reaches out to score. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

O’Mahony has been Ireland’s first-choice blindside flanker for some time now and is one of the vice-captains, so Ruddock will be hard-pressed to displace the Munster man. 

However, O’Mahony played at openside flanker against the Russians and that may be something Schmidt considers for the challenges ahead, though Josh van der Flier has started two games at seven so far.

Whether it’s in the starting team or off the bench, Ruddock showed that he has plenty to offer Ireland at this World Cup. 

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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