Rhys Ruddock targeting quick revenge against Harlequins

Victory against Harlequins vital if Leinster's Champions Cup hopes are to be reignited

Leinster need to beat Harlequins at the Aviva Stadium this Saturday and also deny Conor O'Shea's team a bonus point if they are to regain leadership of Pool 2 in the European Champions Cup, and with that, control of their own destiny. But the mathematical needs are one thing. The need for redemption is another.

The unique characteristic of these pivotal back-to-back rounds in Europe is they afford an immediate chance for revenge/redemption like no other weekend in the season. Last Sunday at the Stoop, Leinster underperformed and they know it better than anyone.

"We're definitely hurting and if we weren't we'd have to take a look at ourselves because we let ourselves down," says Rhys Ruddock. "The beauty of it is that we get to take to the field on Saturday against the same team and hopefully right the wrongs from Sunday."

Accordingly, the six-day turnaround may be less of a disadvantage for Leinster than Quins. Aside from the Irish player welfare programme which saw most of the province's Irish front-liners rested the weeks before and after the November Tests, as well as the Samoan game, their pack is likely to be strengthened by the return of Dominic Ryan.


By contrast, Harlequins will be without their English captain Chris Robshaw – who played every minute of England's four Tests in November before playing the full 80 for his club last Sunday – and their goalkicker-cum chief strategist Nick Evans. The game can't come soon enough for Leinster. Massively disappointing As of last Tuesday, there was still a "massively disappointing" mood in the Leinster camp, according to Ruddock, who added: "We had our hearts set on going over there, putting in our best performance of the season and getting a win, and we were by no means close to doing that so still the overriding feeling is of disappointment and a little bit of frustration.

“But hopefully we can use that in a positive way this week and get ourselves right early. I think we’d be ready to play today if we could.”

On an individual level, Ruddock has probably less to reproach himself for than anyone in the Leinster team, having put himself about with gusto and been their most potent runner with 13 carries for a net gain of 49 metres. But he was part of an all-international pack – six of whom started against South Africa and five against Australia – which, as he admitted, simply “underperformed”.

“At set-piece we probably weren’t as effective as we set out to be. If we can improve our scrum this weekend and get some quality launch to attack from, I think it will make a big difference to the way the backs are able to play and the way the forwards are able to get into the game,” said Ruddock.

“It’s a lot easier when you’re getting to the gain line to move the ball quickly from the breakdown. If you’re on the back foot it becomes a lot more difficult to have any real impact in that area and to get people away quick, speed the ball up and then in turn get over the gain line again. So I think a huge focus for the pack has to be set-piece this week.”

Whatever the angle Joe Marler was scrummaging at, no less than Mike Ross, Jack McGrath had his problems with Will Collier as well. Matters improved in the second half when the back row stayed down and pushed with their tight five. But that a pack containing six of the Ireland forwards which started against South Africa, including the entire frontrow, could not problem-solve in conjunction with scrum coach Marco Caputo and forwards coach Leo Cullen sooner than they did at the Stoop is disconcerting. Forwards coach Coupled with events at Thomond Park, the weekend certainly contrived to underline the standing of Leinster's erstwhile forwards coach Jonno Gibbes, although it's easy to forget Leinster are continually performing without Cian Healy and Sean O'Brien, not to mention the retired Cullen and injured Shane Jennings, although Ruddock said there are enough leaders in the group.

“There’s obviously a couple of guys who are at the hub of the team and really sort of the heartbeat of Leinster rugby. We’re lucky that Leo is involved now and we’re getting the same messages from him that we would have if he was captain. So it’s nice to have him around and certainly from the pack’s point of view he’s given us great guidance this week along with Marco to solve the issues we had at the weekend.

“But there’s definitely lads who are starting to stand up as leaders within the group and sort of dictate how we shape our season from here.”

Saturday is a day to stand up and be counted. Leinster have lost their lost couple of marquee December fixtures at the Aviva to Clermont and Northampton, as well as to Munster this season, but previously at the redeveloped Aviva, they had won eight out of eight, and Ruddock for one is grateful for the heightened sense of occasion which comes with the switch in venue and a 40,000-plus attendance.

“I’d probably prefer to be in the Aviva, I just feel it’s such a big occasion whenever you set foot on that field. . . . If we get a good turnout and the atmosphere is right, I think it will lift us, definitely.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times