Memories of standing up to the All Blacks in Japan in '09 inspiring Ruddock brothers

Memories of standing up to the All Blacks in Japan in '09 inspiring Ruddock brothers
Ciaran and Rhys Ruddock. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Not many siblings get to share one World Cup experience together but the Ruddock boys are now in the midst of their second.

It's 10 years since Ciaran and Rhys Ruddock were part of a talented Ireland U20s side that travelled to Japan to compete in the Junior World Cup. Now here they are again, back in the Land of the Rising Sun with Rhys a member of Joe Schmidt's squad and Ciaran on board as a strength and conditioning coach.

Their first visit didn't go according to plan with Allan Clarke's side falling 17-0 to the Baby Boks and then to Wales in a fifth-place play-off. A closing loss to Samoa rounded off a disappointing campaign that began to unravel as key players picked up injuries.

More positive were the memories of the country. Ireland were based in Nagoya and Fukuoka and the brothers reminisced on Tuesday morning about the warm embrace from the Japanese public who gathered in huge numbers to watch games and adopt favourites.

Jack McGrath had a particularly large fan club, the Ruddocks remembered.

If the wider Irish public recall that tournament for anything then it's likely to be the moment when Ireland marched up on New Zealand as the tournament favourites were performing the haka. It's a snapshot that still survives on YouTube. It's well worth the look.

Ciaran Ruddock was captain that day, deputising for Peter O'Mahony who was suspended after the opening win against Argentina, and he can well remember how nervous he was as he approached the pitch having discussed their plan as a squad prior to the game.

“As I was walking to the pitch the referee caught wind that we were going to do it and said we were not allowed to advance to the haka,” said Ciaran who was later released by Leinster after three years in the academy. I was like, 'it's way too far gone, we've gotta do it'. We did it anyway but, yeah, it didn't get us the result we wanted.

“But in terms of experiences as a player it was unbelievable to do that and to get the opportunity to play against New Zealand for the first time.

And especially to do it with Rhys. I always enjoyed playing with Rhys and having the opportunity to line up alongside him, whether I was second row and he was flanker or, towards the end when I played flanker with him. They were always special.

Ciaran went on to establish himself as an S&C coach, starting up a fitness business with a friend and since November he has been working with the IRFU and Joe Schmidt's senior team. Rhys has played 23 times at Test level and won a host of trophies with Leinster and Ireland: though he hasn't faced a New Zealand representative side since that day in 2009.

Needless to say that both cherish that first shared experience in Japan.

“You were doing it with your best mates and a load of those boys from that 20s World Cup are here now still,” said Rhys. “It's kind of cool for the two of us to be here again, Ciaran as a coach and me in a playing capacity, Conor Murray, Peter O'Mahony, loads of lads who are still in the environment.”

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