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Sunday 19 August 2018

Ruddock born ready to rock

Confidence key as Blues' youngest-ever captain kicks on to the next level in Schmidt's revolution

In the vast pantheon of motivational music, Canadian rockers 'Rush' wouldn't exactly jump out at you.

Not meaning to sound disrespectful to the Toronto trio, whose eclectic lyrics and rollercoaster of heavy metal and ballads have wowed audiences across the world since the late 1960s, but they're not exactly dance, techno, house or gangster rap.

Heck, they're not even The Fureys!

It confirms that at 20, Rhys Ruddock is his own man and is already carving a new independent mould all of his own.

The circuitous route of his life, which started and returned to his hometown of Dublin in the summer of 2009 -- having been reared and schooled in Wales for a large portion of his formative years -- provides a fitting backdrop to his Leinster association.



Tangible

There's the natural link to the city through his mother Bernie, coupled with the tangible association through his brother, Ciaran, who is in the second year of an Academy contract.

Throw in the fact that his father Mike, the current coach of the Ireland Under 20s who also guided Wales to a Grand Slam in 2004, spent three successful seasons with Leinster from 1997-2000 in his formative professional coaching years.

The blood lines with Leinster, you could say, certainly run deep in the Ruddock family.

The low, humble tone carefully answers questions with a mixture of insight and confidence, but more of this particular 'c' word later.



Enthusiast

Don't let the tender years fool you. Beneath the calm exterior beats the heart of, well, not exactly a rock star, but a heavy duty rock enthusiast nonetheless.

"I have always like to bash about on the guitar", Ruddock explains, "but sadly I haven't kept practice up on it recently. Dad is a keen guitarist himself and there was always music in the house growing up so as well as the likes of Stereophonics, we would have listened to a lot of Dire Straits and Led Zeppelin and the older rock music. It's great music!"

In May, he tells you, the three Ruddock men are looking forward to seeing 'Rush' in the O2 Dublin. Once the rugby season finishes he intends to hit the west coast of Ireland and maybe spend a short amount of time in either France or Portugal pursuing his favourite other hobby; surfing.

Over the course of the last calendar year he has led Ireland to the Under 20 Six Nations Championship by which time he had already made his senior Leinster debut.

His second-half appearance last summer against Australia earned him his first Test cap and when he returned from his summer holidays he did so with a Development contract, another important step on the road to professionalism.

Eleven appearances later and he is itching to be a part of a vibrant back-row unit having become the province's youngest ever captain against Aironi a fortnight ago.

With a winning start on his provincial captaincy record he grins, "I should probably just call it a day now with the 100per cent success rate intact!"

The nature of confidence and a competitive environment, he says, are the foundations of all aspiring successful sides. "I feel quite fortunate to be a part of a team that's winning and it has been a great experience to pick up a few caps this season. I'm ambitious in that I want to play, but I also know that I have to keep observing and learning and improving my game each week."



Talent

Earlier this week Ruddock was invited once more to train with the Ireland squad ahead of Sunday's Six Nations game against Scotland. It is an experience he enjoys, he says, insisting that being around the best forward talent in the country can only bring on your own game.

"I would have a lot of respect for those guys across the other provinces so it's good to train with them. As a younger player you want to try to gain their respect also both in training and in the practice matches. That means being as physical as you can and try to make an impression.

"In that regard it's no different to what you're doing week in week out with Leinster, but there are a new set of coaches that you want to impress. Something that Joe (Schmidt) has instilled in us this year is on the area of taking your chances when they come and being mentally and physically ready to be called upon."

He hopes to play some part in tonight's visit of Benetton Treviso, particularly in light of the disappointment of the game in Cardiff last weekend.



Privilege

Despite the loss, Ruddock is adamant that the squad are focused on retaining their strong home record.

"Playing in front of a big home crowd, which is what we usually get in the RDS, is a privilege that the squad never underestimate.

"We owe a massive debt to our supporters.

"We always want to pay them back when we step out on to the pitch", he adds. "And when you hear the roar on match days it does make you walk that bit taller and hit the tackle that bit harder. As players we take the responsibility of not losing, especially at home, really seriously."

Though only in the embryonic stages of what you'd expect to be a fruitful professional career, his leadership qualities have already punctuated each team in which he has played. He sees captaincy as more a group than an individual dynamic.

"Captaincy is often knowing what to say at the right time rather than over-complicating matters. A lot of the best captains lead by example and that can inspire their team-mates.

"If you look at it this year when Leo (Cullen) hasn't been in the team it has rotated between the likes of Jenno (Shane Jennings), Jamie (Heaslip), Seanie (O'Brien) and now I was fortunate to be asked. The extra responsibility does bring out the best in players and you just prepare as best you can so that the big days bring out the big performances."

And with aspiration comes ambition. There's no doubt that the rush is on...

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