Rhys Ruddock could do with a change of luck. The 26-year old is eight seasons down the road from his senior Leinster debut and, though his abilities and leadership qualities have never been in doubt, the gods have conspired against him in the bid to establish a regular place in the back row for club and country.
The bare stats back it up.
Thirteen caps since his Test debut in 2010 is a paltry return for a man of his class. Ireland have featured in two World Cups during that time, but his own input has been limited to 10 minutes off the bench against Argentina in the quarter-final loss two years ago.
A broken arm, his second inside a year, actually saw him miss out on the initial squad that time and injury has been party to the fact that he hasn’t featured in any of the four European Cup semi-finals in which Leinster have featured in his time with the senior squad.
This season has been as frustrating as any with zero appearances in green and his time in blue diluted again by ankle surgery over the summer and calf and quad issues since.
Yet, here he is now, fit and available for duty as Clermont Auvergne loom on the weekend’s horizon.
“Yeah, well, don’t jinx me,” he said with a smile. This being rugby, the ill fortune of others have opened the door.
Jamie Heaslip’s absence from duties for the back end of the season allowed Jack Conan step in at No.8 but only until a neck injury suffered against the Ospreys and since which Ruddock has been handed the responsibility of bringing up the rear of the scrum.
The soundings are that Conan will be okay in time for the Champions Cup semi-final in Lyon but Ruddock’s form has been strong and he brings a bulk and a carrying power that will be attractive to the Leinster brains trust as they contemplate the threat of the larger French pack.
“We’re well aware of that (physicality),” Ruddock remarked.”But when you look at Clermont as well, and the way they have been playing this year, they are capable of a lot more than that. They’ve got so many options and threats that I don’t think it will just come down to that forward battle.
“But being able to compete with them physically and get on top in areas up front will definitely make for a solid platform for us to play and bring the battle in the rest of the game. So it’s definitely going to be a key area as we look more at them this week and start preparing ourselves.”
The options available to Leo Cullen in the back row remain enviable, even with Heaslip and Jordi Murphy unavailable. Sean O’Brien, named as a Lion again yesterday, seems a lock-in. Not just for his ability but a depth of experience that the likes of Ruddock, Conan, Josh van der Flier, Dan Leavy can’t match.
“I think we have enough experience in the coaching staff and the player group of guys who have played in the big games in Europe — and won in big games in Europe. In France there will be enough guys who take the field this weekend who have won there in quarter-finals and semi-finals.
“That is massive and something that you need when you’re going to play such an in-form team in such a tough environment and on such a big stage.
“So it’s about how those guys pull everyone else around them. Everyone will trust in the group that takes the field.” And in him, if he makes it this time.
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