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Ruddock fresh and ready to fire after words of encouragement from Peter O'Mahony

The Leinster flanker was on his way to bed Sunday night when Ireland’s call told him to pack his bags.

Sean Farrell reports from Cardiff

HERE COMES THE cavalry.

Rhys Ruddock Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With all the wreckage that was left strewn around the Ireland camp after Sunday’s brutal bash against France, it’s good to see fresh faces glide in, ready to help lift spirits and the tempo again.

The atrium in Ireland’s city centre hotel allowed Mike McCarthy to be spotted hanging out in an upstairs lounge. But a couple of steps ahead of him was Rhys Ruddock, kitted out in his new Rugby World Cup tracksuit and polo shirt the flanker stood tall as a poorly-formed maul of journalists closed in.

First things first, the man he replaced: after ‘the game of Peter O’Mahony’s life‘ the Munster captain wouldn’t have needed telling that his tournament was over. Players know their bodies and knee ligaments can’t be ignored.

“Mark of the man,” says Ruddock when asked about the blindside he crossed flightpaths with.

I think it was the night he got the injury, he texted me to say he was delighted to hear I was coming over. It shows what a quality bloke he is on top of being a quality player.

“That’d be the last thing on most people’s mind. Absolute gent. I had a conversation with him and wished him a speedy recovery.”

As is always the case in modern day Test rugby, one player’s misfortune is another’s gain. Ruddock has felt the other edge of that particular sword enough, perhaps most notably this summer when the versatile flanker was sent to Georgia in a bid to help him build match fitness for this very tournament. Instead, he broke his forearm for the second time this year and fell out of the running.

Now he’s back.

Cardiovascular fitness won’t be too much of a problem for the experienced 24-year-old, the one benefit of his injury was that it did not hamper him as much as, say, an ankle or knee problem would.  He was able to run freely during his pre-season while the arm returned to its full strength and that was borne out by the 80 minute shift he put in on his first game back for Leinster nine days ago.

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Being part of a Joe Schmidt setup is about more than shifting tin or racking up the laps, of course. There has been no red carpet rolled out for Ruddock’s arrival to the land of his fathers, no initiation ceremony, just work to catch up on.

“Gym session and plenty of video work,” he offers dryly in response to the query about the welcome he got.

“Luckily I have been around the squad for a long time. I obviously had a bit of a break where I wasn’t involved, but up until then I have had a lot of exposure to the group and to the way Joe coaches.

“I know all the plays and everything inside out. It hasn’t been too hard, just refreshing the memory and getting the work done. I’m pretty much up to scratch already.”

Rhys Ruddock Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

He adds: “In the past we’ve been pretty good an injuries; people missing out and new people stepping up and taking over the mantle. I suppose it comes down to everyone understanding what it means to be part of this team and the responsibility that’s put on you the minute you take the field.

Joe’s instilled that in to every single player and I’ve been around the squad long enough to know, if I do get an opportunity, exactly what my responsibility is.”

Ruddock is no stranger to the role of the late arrival. It’s arguably the story of his career to date. From getting hooked out of the under 20 World Cup squad by Declan Kidney for a Test debut in Australia to stepping in to devastating effect when Chris Henry suffered  his ‘mini stroke’ prior to the Springboks’ loss in Dublin.

Indeed, the only reason Ruddock has 80 minutes under his belt this season is because Leinster number eight Jack Conan rolled his ankle in the warm-up before the win over Dragons.

He may not have been present for Paul O’Connell’s last rousing speech as Ireland captain, but he’ll hear about it in hushed tones this week. And though he may be quietly spoken in a midweek setting, he’ll be as fired up as any man when Sunday rolls around.

“Pete and Paulie (O’Mahony and O’Connell) are great leaders, but there’s plenty of guys to step up and take that mantle.

“It’s an individual thing as well. If you can’t get yourself up for this match emotionally and physically, then you’re in the wrong place.”

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Sean Farrell

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