Rhys Ruddock: ‘I am loving it, genuinely. I signed on for another two years and I’m delighted’
The Leinster flanker is keen to progress with the province and add to his two Ireland caps
Leinster’s Rhys Ruddock tackled by Luke Marshall and Callum Black of Ulster. Photograph: Dan Sheridan / Inpho
Toulon’s Jocelino Suta attempts to close down ball-carrying Rhys Ruddock of Leinster in the Heineken Cup quarter-final. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
As a son of a Welsh dad and Irish mum, who spent more of his formative years growing up outside Swansea near Mumbles on the coast, along with the sense freedom and community spirit, Rhys Ruddock took to surfing from the age of 11. Aside from his old friends, it’s what he misses most about Wales.
To recreate that sense of home, in his third season with Leinster he used a couple of days off to drive to Eeskey in Co Sligo with his surf board.
“The first person I bumped into was a Welsh guy who lived over there. He’s been living there for 15 years and he ended up being a contact who I go over and surf with. It’s gas.
“ Rugby is a small world, but surfing is even smaller and you get to know people. That made it a lot easier to do those trips.”
Jamie Wood has become a friend, whom Ruddock supplied with some tickets to Amlin Challenge Cup games last year.
It’s taken a while, but now in his fifth season with Leinster Ruddock appears to have arrived. Back in his days with the Welsh Under-18s he didn’t envisage throwing in his lot with Leinster and Ireland. The initiative came from his older brother Ciaran, who made the switch first to the Irish Under-19s and Under-20s and touted his younger brother.
“It was like such a great opportunity to play for Ireland together. It’s something that, if I didn’t do it then [in my] 20s, you probably wouldn’t have ever got to do. It was nice for the family as well.”
Ireland were only edged out of the title on points difference by France. “I don’t think our team would have been the best but Peter O’Mahony led from the front really, so we had quite a bit of a dog about us. We had England and France at home in Athlone, and kind of dragged them into a bit of a . . . fight and we managed to win both games.”
Carton House or, as was the case during this Six Nations, O’Mahony met up with both Ruddocks for lunch on a rest day.
Ciaran, who still plays for St Mary’s, has co-opened a gym in Leeson Street called Fitter, Faster, Stronger. “It’s been full for a while so he’s mad busy. I don’t see much of him. He’s doing his dissertation for the Masters at the moment as well so between the two he’s pretty flat out.”
His dad Mike and Irish mum Bernadette have followed in due course, the former Leinster, Welsh and Worcester coach guiding the Irish Under-20s and Lansdowne, and having lived before in Greystones, they’ve relocated to Bray. Home is now Ireland.
In the past Ruddock has only signed a one-year extension, unsure as he was about the long-term future and what he saw as the slow progress of his Leinster career. That he has signed a new two-year deal recently is evidence of his contentment.
“I am loving it, genuinely. I signed on for another two years and I’m delighted about that. I can’t see myself feeling any other way about it in the next while anyway.”
His frustration was perhaps sparked by earning his first cap in the summer of 2009 as a replacement against Australia in Brisbane when called away from his duties at the Under-20 World Cup as captain of the Irish team. There followed a gap of almost four years before he earned his second cap, as a replacement in this season’s Six Nations at home to Italy.
“I suppose getting that first cap so young probably gave me a taste of it all and it’s kind of hard because I knew I wasn’t really at that level. It was a bit of good fortune and timing really.”
This season has marked something of a breakthrough for him. He has played more games for Leinster (15 starts and six more off the bench) than any other, and the true barometer is his haul of four Heineken Cup starts (and two more off the bench), which is more than his previous four seasons combined.
At 6ft 3in (1.91m) and 111kg (17st 6lbs) Ruddock is assuredly built for modern-day, collision-based rugby. But this season it’s almost as if he has grown into his sizeable frame. Whenever he aired his worries to his dad, Ruddock snr always told him it would be 23 before Ruddock obtained what he calls “man strength”. Now 23, Ruddock says: “I do feel a lot stronger and a lot more physical in the collisions. It seems like he was right about that.”
He also had hip surgery in 2012, which sidelined him from May to October that year. And part of his strength and conditioning, his surgeon had warned him, would need a full year to return and enable him reach full fitness and strength. With all of that has come more game time, for Ruddock admits he was too inconsistent. “I can see why I wasn’t getting picked for the bigger games so no complaints in that area but it’s still frustrating nonetheless but I’ve made a bit of a step forward in that area.”
This season has seen the emergence of an altogether more confident player. A calm, mature lad by nature, it’s not that he struts, but Ruddock appears to believe he can impose himself more on games now. A benchmark game was Leinster’s third match of the season, a 34-20 win at home to Cardiff most notable for Brian O’Driscoll’s seasonal return in his last campaign.
“Jonno [Gibbes] and Greg Feek both came up to me and said just enjoy it and don’t get too caught up on the finer little details because I think they saw I’d maybe worry a little bit about those things. I ended up having a good game and the fact that they were saying the same things as I was thinking myself made me relax a little bit and enjoy it a bit more. I’ve definitely been enjoying my rugby a bit more this year.”
Pride in being capped
The two caps couldn’t have been more different. That first cap he describes as “surreal”, arriving from Argentina with little sleep, straight on to the training ground, not knowing any of the moves and, when picked against the Maoris, feeling a little star struck.
“I just remember looking around the changing-room before that game and the Australia game, and seeing Ronan O’Gara for instance, whom I’d probably never even met before. To be going out to play with him after watching him for years on the television and, being like a hero, that was absolutely crazy.”
Four years on, he felt like he earned the second cap more on the back of good form with Leinster. It was also a Six Nations game at home attended by all his family, which made it sweeter.
His grandmother “Peg” Margaret Ruddock, who has since died, was losing her sight at the time. She said, before she loses her sight she wanted to see me play in the green jersey because although she was my dad’s mum she was born in Clare. She’s Irish. She was just over the moon to get to see me play. She wasn’t at the game but she was definitely the happiest person afterwards, by a mile.”
Not that he’s anyway sated. Like both seasoned and recent internationals, Ruddock is mustard keen to be included in the squad for the Argentine tour, to be announced on Monday.
“The last thing I want to do is sit back and wait four or five years to get another cap. To get the second one is nice and I suppose a bit of the monkey off the back as well but now it’s spurred me. I’m just mad keen to get myself on that tour. If that doesn’t happen, then whenever the next opportunity is I want to make sure I’m fit and in good form in order to put myself in the picture.”
Eye on silverware
As an aside, this evening’s game may count as the last of the weekly interpro
“trials”. Mindful of Ulster’s win at the RDS last season, Ruddock says Leinster are acutely aware they are well capable of repeating the feat in what is a last chance at silverware for both teams.
“I think we’ve probably lacked a little bit of intent for a few games and I think we’re starting to do that, but we probably lack a little accuracy lately. The only thing I would say is we have a lot of confidence in ourselves around play-off games. We’ve done it a number of times.
“Everyone really looks forward to it and we’ve worked hard to get here now.
“Hopefully it will bring the best out of us because we probably haven’t been at our best and if we’re not this weekend we’ll really suffer.
“We’re well aware of that ourselves.”