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Monday 18 February 2019

Natural captain Ruddock backs Byrne to deliver

Leinster flanker Rhys Ruddock
Leinster flanker Rhys Ruddock

If Leinster have to make-do without Jonathan Sexton this week, Rhys Ruddock is confident Ross Byrne can do to Wasps what he did to Toulouse.

"Obviously, we were missing a lot of quality operators," he said.

"If you look at missing Johnny - that was a big one - there is the quality that Ross brings."

There is a calmness to Byrne's best work that exudes confidence, best reflected in the inch-perfect kick that Dave Kearney grabbed for the second try on Saturday.

"I have to say he was awesome," added Ruddock.

"At times, it felt like we were wondering how we were going to break down this team.

"Ross seemed to always have a plan and the half-backs, they really directed us around.

"It was just a case of listening to them and digging in."

The reason Ruddock has always been seen as natural captain material is right there in his demeanour.

The Leinster and Ireland flanker is able to crunch into contact with every fibre of his being, take a long, deep breathe, rise to his feet and meet the referee in polite conversation.

The communication with referee Luke Pearce was right out of the captain's handbook.

"He was chatting to me the whole way through and it was a two-way conversation," said Ruddock. "It was nice to be able to discuss things with him, get where he's at with his decisions and just make sure he gets our line of thought as well."

There were kind words for the official in charge and respect for the men that stood between Leinster and recovering the lead in Pool One.

"We hope that performance will send a statement because of how good Toulouse are and how well they showed up," he said.

"I think they gave us nothing cheap. We were battering away for phase after phase, thinking 'something's got to give'.

"Credit to them, they dug in for everything. We ended up having to throw the ball over the top and find the space that way. It was pretty relentless from them, not letting us get over the line."

The uncertainty over losing men to injury and the spectacular form of Toulouse led to a nervous atmosphere at the RDS.

It was the coaches and players who allayed all fears with their authority.

Now, the presumption is that the champions will turn up at the Ricoh Arena on Sunday and roll right over Wasps. That is the kind of thought process that can undo the best intentions.

The English club is bottom of the Pool with just one draw from five rounds.

At this stage, their only worthwhile contribution to the competition would be to scuttle Leinster. The Blues have recent experience from what Ruddock referred to as "a dark day" in Coventry when their deplorable campaign concluded with an embarrassing 41-point defeat to Wasps in January 2016.

"They were quality that day and we probably played within ourselves," he said. "I am sure it would be no harm to review that game and have a look at what we can expect going to their home patch."

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