RHYS RUDDOCK WAITED a long time to get back into an Ireland jersey but his return was frustratingly short-lived.
The 30-year-old started for Ireland against France in round two of the Six Nations after Peter O’Mahony’s red card and suspension, with the Leinster man making his first appearance in green since the 2019 World Cup.
Ireland boss Andy Farrell couldn’t ignore Ruddock’s form for Leinster when he picked his Six Nations squad, but that outing against the French – the back row’s 27th cap – proved to be his final involvement in the championship.
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He was still part of the wider Ireland squad as they finished their campaign with three consecutive wins but Ruddock is raring to actually play again now that he’s back in the Leinster set-up preparing for Saturday’s Guinness Pro14 final against Munster.
“Obviously missing out on the Six Nations squad last year, it was a goal of mine to get back in the squad and try and get back in the Irish jersey, so it was nice to achieve that,” says Ruddock.
“I probably would have liked a little bit more game time, but I suppose it’s nice to come back in here [Leinster] and straight away have a chance to fight for a position in the team for some massive games coming up – the final first this week.”
An early lineout steal against the French suggested that Ruddock was set to make a big impact but it was a tough day for Ireland collectively.
The Leinster back row was left out of the Italy game two weekends later and didn’t feature against Scotland or England either.
Ruddock after Ireland’s defeat to France. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
“There were reasons that they shared with me that I needed to do more of or improve on, but I would prefer… that’s probably between me and the coaches,” says Ruddock of the feedback he got from Farrell and co.
“Look, at the end of the day, there were guys in there doing a brilliant job as well. Tadhg [Beirne] coming in and playing six, playing outstanding, Jack Conan coming in as well.
“It’s just one of those things. It was great to be a part of it. It’s not always as enjoyable when you’re 24th man watching the team and you feel like you want to be out there, but I have to say, the England game, there was no one in the stadium, but all of the reserves who warmed up, there was such a great buzz to see the lads performing so well.
“You could just tell that everyone was on it, so that was actually unbelievable to be a part of, even in that small way. I thought it was a pretty special day.”
Ruddock will be back in a blue shirt this weekend and is eager to pick up where he left off with his province – playing some of his best rugby in years.
Operating at blindside flanker or number eight and often captaining the side, Ruddock has been very impressive for Leinster this season.
He puts his good form down to a tweak in his approach to training – dropping some weight but building more power – and a focus on his self-belief.
“Leading up to when we went into lockdown [last year], I probably wasn’t overly happy with my game in certain areas,” explains Ruddock.