Monday 24 June 2019

Ruddock: Derby duel is the one that counts

PRO 14 League: Leinster v Munster, Live eir Sport (KO6.0)

Leinster back-row Rhys Ruddock
Leinster back-row Rhys Ruddock

Has Leo Cullen stumbled onto something? Or, has it always been in the pipeline?

For a variety of reasons, the Leinster coach has never been able to start Rhys Ruddock, Dan Leavy and Seán O'Brien as a breakaway unit.

There is a wow-factor about the savage work-rate, muscularity, poach presence and carrying cards that all three bring to the table.

"I didn't actually check if you three played together," said coach Leo Cullen, turning to captain Ruddock at the Captain's Run press briefing in The Aviva Stadium.

"Rhys and Dan have played together. Rhys and Seán have played together. Whether Rhys, Dan and Seán have played together I'm not sure."

Leinster’s Seán O’Brien is tackled by Connacht’s Quinn Roux during last weekend’s PRO14 clash at The Sportsground, Galway
Leinster’s Seán O’Brien is tackled by Connacht’s Quinn Roux during last weekend’s PRO14 clash at The Sportsground, Galway

A quick glance at their respective playing records reveal that this three-man band of back-rows has never had the chance to show what they can do for each other.

Cullen was not forthcoming about the possibility of seeing three men playing together for the first time and just knowing that it feels and looks right, that they can be his first choice back-three for the beginning of Europe and what waits beyond.

There are too many others with good reason to feel the same standard applies to them, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan, Max Deegan, even Scott Fardy.

The brakes will be pumped on anointing them, especially in light of the injury history of O'Brien and Ruddock.

As recently as last week, the latter had to leave The Sportsground with a hip injury that has cleared up nicely.

In terms of this inter-provincial, Munster will bring their own special back-row brew of Peter O'Mahony, Tommy O'Donnell and CJ Stander.

Of course, the back-row is only as effective as the front-five ahead of them.

The struggle for dominance between Leinster's Devin Toner and James Ryan and Munster's Jean Kleyn and Tadhg Beirne should make The Aviva sod shake. Munster coach Johann van Graan has decided to wheel out most of his big guns with All Black scrum-half Alby Mathewson a possible difference-maker.


"Munster, we know a lot of the threats they have," reviewed Cullen. "They've changed slightly this season and have a different focus.

"It's hard to get a true gauge through their games.

"They've had very big wins at home and they've lost the two games they've played away.

"There are a lot of similar threats, guys we'd be familiar with.

"Even the guys that have come in, like Tadhg (Beirne), that we know well. Joey (Carbery) as well.

"Alby Mathewson is probably the one who we haven't seen as much footage on, he's had a period out of the game."

The scrum-half has a quick mind and a way of putting defences off-balance.

"We saw some of his clips from Toulon last year and the 50-odd minutes he had last weekend.

"That's something a little bit different in the mix, but we'll expect a nice, physical contest as normal."

This is still the one that matters most among the Irish inter-provincials, at least for these two.

"It is just that intensity and that physicality," said flanker Ruddock.

"It is kinda hard to put your finger on it.

"It is just the way teams try and attack each other, often off driving line-outs, scrums, trying to get the upper hand.

"It can start out as a bit of an arm-wrestle," he stated.

"But, then the game gets played at a high intensity and a fast pace which is an equivalent of European games."

It remains the perfect way to get ready for The Champions Cup six days later.

"It is hugely physical and that stands to us," he added.

"As well, there is the emotion that the players carry into the game.

"If you ask any players which game they look forward too I'm sure they will tell you this one."

And don't take the coaches and players words for it.

Just look at the fact that more than 49,000 tickets were sold by mid-afternoon yesterday for what could well rise to a sell-out crowd.

For some reason, it doesn't matter that Jonathan Sexton won't be there.

It doesn't matter that Leinster are half-cocked, while Munster are fully-loaded.

There is a history and an animosity that cannot be denied.

It could even be the right time for Munster to take their impressive home show on the road and tear down the fortress.

Leinster: R Kearney; F McFadden, R O'Loughlin, R Henshaw, J Lowe; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; J McGrath, J Tracy, M Bent, D Toner, J Ryan, R Ruddock (Capt), D Leavy, S O'Brien. Replacements: S Cronin, C Healy, A Porter, M Kearney, J van der Flier; L McGrath, N Reid, D Kearney.

Munster: A Conway; D Sweetnam, S Arnold, D Goggin, K Earls; J Carbery, A Mathewson; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, S Archer, J Kleyn, T Beirne, P O'Mahony (Capt), T O'Donnell, CJ Stander. Replacements: K O'Byrne, J Cronin, C Parker, B Holland, C Cloete; D Williams, JJ Hanrahan, R Scannell.

Verdict: Munster

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