THE SIX NATIONS is an important time in the Ruddock household.
23-year-old Rhys is hopeful of having some involvement in this year’s version of the tournament, something that will become all the more likely if the Leinster man can impress as captain of the Wolfhounds side that plays the England Saxons this evening.
Meanwhile, father Mike is preparing the U20 national squad for their latest campaign, which kicks off against Scotland on Friday evening at Dubarry Park.
Rhys’ brother Ciaran is now head of strength and conditioning at the Fitter Faster Stronger facility on Dublin’s Lower Leeson Street, where the practical knowledge he accumulated during his own time with Leinster has been coupled with a degree in Health and Performance Science from UCD.
The fact that Mike is a Welshman, but mother Bernadette is an Irishwoman makes matters a lot more interesting.
I suppose for a big rugby family it’s an exciting time of the year. With the Dad and the Mum obviously holding onto different colours as well, there’s a few little arguments. Usually, everyone is looking forward to the big games.
“I don’t know who my Dad will be up for this year, presumably he’ll be looking to support Wales unless I’m playing.”
Ruddock’s first rugby memory is one that neatly outlines the playful rivalry that is involved amongst his family at this time of the year.
“I think I remember Ireland against Wales. I can’t remember what year it was, but I remember because Ciaran would have been born in Wales and I would have been born in Ireland. The green jersey would have been put on me and the red jersey would have been put on my brother.
Ruddock captained the Emerging Ireland side last summer. ©INPHO/Tamuna Kulumbegashvili.
“We were only tiny but I remember wrestling around and arguing and having a bit of banter there. I think that was more forced at the time, we were thrown into the jerseys.”
The fact that Mike is now in charge of an Irish team is a little peculiar for Rhys, especially given the fact that the Lansdowne RFC head coach led Wales to a Grand Slam in 2005. As a 14-year-old, Rhys was fully behind his father during that momentous run.
“I remember I was away with a rugby tour. I was playing for my local club in Wales, so I was obviously massively behind my Dad with Wales at that time. I was delighted to see the team do so well and to see my Dad have some great success there.
So it’s a bit different now as I’d be looking for Ireland to win, obviously. At the time I was just delighted to see my Dad so well.”
It is with Ireland that Ruddock plans on making his own telling impact, the nation for whom his international debut came in unique circumstances. While captaining the Ireland U20 side at the 2010 Junior World Championship in Argentina, a string of back row injuries on the senior tour of New Zealand and Australia saw him flown out as cover.
Ruddock made his bow off the bench against the Wallabies, playing 12 minutes after which the scene seemed set for much involvement with Ireland over the following seasons. However, Rhys is still stuck on a single cap, a milestone he would greatly like to add to.
This season has seen the St. Mary’s man having his most consistent run of excellent form, meaning he has nailed down the number six shirt for Leinster. Always a supreme athlete, the 23-year-old has been particularly excellent in the collisions, be they carries, tackles, rucks, leeches or mauls.
“It’s something that I’ve focused on, something that Joe [Schmidt] kind of drilled into me while he was at Leinster and Matt’s [O'Connor] kind of carried it on, obviously with Jono [Gibbes] being there too. They all sort of keep drilling it into me about body height and making sure you’re winning collisions.
Ruddock has developed a strong set of contact skills. ©INPHO/Donall Farmer.
“But I think also the fact that being injury-free after the surgery on my hips just over year ago [has helped]. I gradually felt the power starting to come back, to be able to do extra leg strength work. It all adds up and it’s been a gradual progression in that sense.”
Leading the Wolfhounds out this evening will be an honour, even if Ruddock hasn’t quite been able to accumulate the experience of doing so for Leinster too often in recent times. He feels that the added burden won’t change his personal approach too much, as most of the work involved is done during the week.
“I wouldn’t say there was too much difference, to be honest. I just like to try and lead with actions more so on game day. I suppose it’s just making sure that you’ve got a real understanding of everything that a team’s going to do because you’ve got to be the one who’s picking up on it in training and during the week.
[It's about] making sure you’re getting the right messages across. I’d say it’s not so much around the games, but more in the day-to-day and making sure you’re keeping on top of that.”
Ruddock stresses that the Wolfhounds squad “very much feel part of the Six Nations campaign at the moment” and understand that they are playing for individual rewards. However, he explains that ensuring one’s own performance is of a high quality will not detract from the team display.
“Not at all, because that’s kind of the way rugby is every week. You’re always playing to win every week, but you’re playing for your place in the team. Competition is so strong that if you don’t have a good game on a personal level, you’re not going to get picked the next week.
“It’s exactly the same this week, although I suppose the stakes might be a little bit higher with the Six Nations coming up. At the same time, the win is everything. Once the lads are out there, no one will be thinking of themselves.”