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Sunday 25 June 2017

Rhys is the rudder for Ireland at last

Ireland’s Rhys Ruddock during squad training at Carton House, Maynooth yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland’s Rhys Ruddock during squad training at Carton House, Maynooth yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

There was a time when Rhys Ruddock seemed destined to become Ireland's next captain-elect.

The story has been well thumbed through about how the then Ireland U20 captain was summoned from Argentina, albeit in emergency circumstances, to make his senior debut against Australia in 2010.

There was also the less significant reward of being the youngest man, still 20, to captain Leinster in the PRO12 League, back in February 2011.

On that occasion, the Leinster coach was the current Ireland headman.

Incredibly

"He captained Leinster when I was there, so I know he can do the job," said Joe Schmidt, out in Carton House.

joe schmidt
joe schmidt

"It's an incredibly young group compared to what we normally have. Rhys is tremendously experienced in the back-row."

There was a time, more recently, when it looked like playing for Ireland would be a stretch for Ruddock.

A series of injuries had forced the flanker to standstill, while others whizzed past to temporarily make Ireland's future look like a man of the past.

For all of that, the 26 year-old has always presented as a genuine gentleman of the game, even in times of deep distress.

He has that aura of magnetism that makes for a natural leader of men. The lead-in to the tour was pockmarked with the saga over Donnacha Ryan leaving to join Racing in Paris.

"The door is never closed. But, it becomes a very difficult calculation," said Schmidt.

"The other thing with Donnacha is he will potentially be 35, 36 by the time the World Cup comes about.

"I know age is just a number and its not the most important number.

Tackles

"The number is how many lineouts you win clean or how many rucks you hit well or effective tackles you make."

He took the decision to take Ulster's Kieran Treadwell and Leinster's James Ryan as a peek ahead to the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

There was even an indication that Ryan could be back in green as soon as this November.

"If we need the kind of grit, strength and experience that Donnacha brings, then that would probably be a place that we may involve him again."

At the moment, Schmidt seems likely to look for the proven worth of Devin Toner - he needs a big tour - and Quinn Roux to keep the engine room burning.

The Connacht man made a solid impression on Schmidt in South Africa last summer where his unseen scrummaging was a strength.

In behind them, James Ryan and Kieran Treadwell will show Schmidt how fast they are to learn.

"With James, we might not even see him on the pitch," shared the coach.

"That's one of the things that may happen on this tour. There might be two or three guys who we just want to get away and get to know."

There was also the matter of housekeeping and news that Munster's Tommy O'Donnell will see a specialist to investigate an ankle injury.

Ulster's Seán Reidy, already in New Zealand, will join the squad in Japan.

Simon Zebo recovered from a sore knee in the PRO12 final to take a full part in training yesterday.

Experimental assistants Ronan O'Gara and Girvan Dempsey were in camp too ahead of O'Gara staying with Ireland for the first week in the United States.

Dempsey will attend for week one in Japan and Felix Jones will be there for the third and final week.

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