Saturday 22 October 2016

Ruddock ready to go back to roots

Irish Rhys has never played against dad's native Wales

Ireland’s Rhys Ruddock during Ireland training at the Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland’s Rhys Ruddock during Ireland training at the Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road Photo: Sportsfile
Wales coach Mike Ruddock holds up the Six Nations Championship trophy after his side defeated Ireland 32-20 in March 2005 Photo: PA

When Mike Ruddock and Bernadette Wymer first met, it was a defining day for the Welshman and would turn out to be a great one for Irish rugby too.

Many moons later, their sons Rhys and Ciarán would have to declare for either Wales or Ireland as the gospel of their rugby prowess spread.

Luckily, Stillorgan lady Bernadette's charms had won the allegiance of her sons long before they were faced with the choice.

"I am a mummy's boy," smiled Rhys Ruddock without a hint of embarrassment.

"Also, with the Welsh name, I was the one born in Ireland, Ciarán, with the Irish name, was born in Wales.

"I don't know where they got that one from. But, there was some logic there, apparently."

It must have seemed like a foregone conclusion now, so rooted in Leinster and Ireland is the back-row forward.

There was a time when he was knee deep in the grunt and guts of Under-11 regional rugby of Wales.

It was on one such afternoon that the boy deemed too big to tackle when attending Willow Park in Blackrock College in the late 1990s soon found out there were even larger specimens roaming rugby in the land of his father.

"I actually played Under-11 West Wales against East Wales and on the East Wales team you had Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola, Toby Faletau and another cousin (Anthony) Maka.

"The four of them were absolute monsters," he unsurprisingly recalled.

"I remember running down the touchline, thinking I was going to score a try and Billy managed to jump on my back.

"I landed on top of the ball and it took me about ten minutes to get up I was so badly winded.

"Yeah, I had plenty of run-ins with those boys."

The Irish international will only have to deal with one of them, Faletau, as the Vunipolas have long since turned their loyalty towards England.

So much has happened since that pre-teenage day in Wales.

There were the years at Millfield School where Mako Vunipola was a team-mate, the headline grabbing call-up from captain of the Ireland U20s at the 2010 Junior World Cup to his first senior cap over eleven minutes against Australia at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.

The 19 year-old was billed as the next big thing in Irish rugby.

It is almost incomprehensible to imagine how someone so young could make his international debut.

Since then, the break of injury has restricted him to a meagre six caps, just three from the start.

The latest evidence is there in the red scar of the twice operated on right forearm that wiped out last season.

When Peter O'Mahony was hit with a serious knee injury at the World Cup, Ruddock was called up again.

He has been making his case for the number six jersey in what looks like a one-on-one contest with CJ Stander.

"You don't know which way it is going to go," he said.

"All you can do is focus on the training field and put your hand up by nailing all the detail, showing the edge and showing that you want to be there.

"That is what I have been trying to do and everyone else seems to be in the same frame of mind.

"We have had a really good, positive mindset this week and are building nicely."

The 25-year-old would relish the special occasion it would be to play against the country which his father coached to the 2005 Grand Slam, their first in 27 years back then.

"I haven't actually played against Wales yet," he said.

The Dragons bring a special brand of technique and power to the back row.

"They are known for their threat at the breakdown, depending on who they got with," said Ruddock.

"Dan Lydiate and (Sam) Warburton seem to be tried and tested, they work well together.

"Lydiate's ability to low tackle and get the attacker on the ground early (complements) Warburton's ability to get over the ball.

"Justin) Tipuric is very similar to Warburton in that way and also he is a real danger in the wider channels.

"Then, Faletau would be the main ball carrying threat.

"Whoever they go with it will be one of their strongest areas."

Should Ruddock be selected, Faletau will have an old score to settle.

Believe it or not, West Wales won that day back in 2001.

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