Friday 24 January 2020

Rhys ready to do duty

International match: Ireland v Italy (Aviva, live RTE2/CH4 2.0)

Rhys Ruddock will lead Ireland out against Italy today
Rhys Ruddock will lead Ireland out against Italy today

The honour of leading Ireland out for the opening international of the season comes a distant second to how Rhys Ruddock will lead by example.

"I'd say it's always that way. The captaincy is obviously a great honour," he noted.

"But, at the end of the day, you can't let it get in the way of doing your job to the best of your ability, fitting into what the teams needs from you.

"It is no different in that sense."

The planning of coach Joe Schmidt has been detailed and deliberate enough to have the bulk of this 23 scheduled to play from far earlier than the Thursday announcement.

The posting of Chris Farrell at inside centre indicates how Schmidt will probably stick to his guns on how Ireland will play.

At half-back, Joey Carbery is well aware of the progress of Jack Carty and Luke McGrath will have to have a big game to push his claim.

The inclusion of Tadhg Beirne as the back row reserve opens the way for Jean Kleyn to make a bid to join Devin Toner, James Ryan and Iain Henderson as the second row set.

Given the height, weight and power of those in Ireland's way in Japan, Beirne could well emerge as the natural competitor for Peter O'Mahony's shirt.

"We're lucky that we've had a couple of weeks to prepare and we kind of knew roughly what team we were going to have out.

"We have been able to grow the combinations," said the Leinster flanker.

What looks like a meaningless match from outside the tent in Carton House is far from it for those on the edge of the 31-man roster for the World Cup.

Game One could already be break, if not quite make.

"We've seen in some of Joe's selections in the past," he continued.

"All he asks of you is to do your job and perform well, not to go off and do your own thing.

"That won't get us anywhere as a team. Everyone buys into that, as a group."

It would be wise to follow the instructions to the letter of the law laid down.

A risk that goes unrewarded can have a deeper sting than the one that comes off.

"It definitely has the feel of any other Test match," added Ruddock.

"We're all excited to get the opportunity, to put on the jersey, lay down a marker for what we're about as a group leading into the World Cup.

"The preparation has been exactly the same as any other Test match.

"We're in the same place. We've had the same format, in terms of meetings and training.

However, in the back row alone, none of Ruddock, Tommy O'Donnell - he will represent Ireland for the first time since 2016 - and Jordi Murphy are guaranteed to make the final cut.

Perhaps Murphy is a step ahead on the basis of his versatility in covering all three slots from 6-to-8.

O'Donnell's ace could be his athleticism and Ruddock's his leadership.

Either way, all three have to come together as a unit in the name of the greater good.

"In the back of your mind, you know the importance and the meaning of putting in a performance as an individual.

"The message has been clear from the coaches and everyone has bought into it that the way we progress as individuals is by performing as a team."

In terms of the outcome, Ireland should win with something to spare on an afternoon when it will be far more about the performance as a whole.

Ireland: J Larmour; A Conway, G Ringrose, C Farrell, D Kearney; J Carbery, L McGrath; J McGrath, R Herring, A Porter, D Toner, J Kleyn, R Ruddock (capt), T O'Donnell, J Murphy. Replacements: N Scannell, C Healy, John Ryan, I Henderson, T Beirne; K Marmion, J Carty, M Haley.

Italy: E Padovani; A Esposito, T Benvenuti, M Zanon, G Besigni; C Canna, G Palazzani; N Quaglio O Fabiani, M Riccioni, A Zanni, D Budd (Capt), G Licata, M Mbanda, J Tuivaiti. Replacements: F Zani, A Lovotti, S Ferrari, M Lazzardini, R Giammarioli; C Bradley, I McKinley, M Minozzi.

Verdict: Ireland

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