Irish rugby has a long and distinguished list of brothers who have played together on the men’s national team but the Ruddock siblings have a slightly different claim on the honours board.
While back-rower Rhys Ruddock is putting his hand up for selection in Japan this week when Ireland open their World Cup campaign against Scotland on Sunday, older brother Ciarán Ruddock is one of the strength and conditioning coaches putting him and the rest of the squad through their paces.
The sons of Wales’ 2005 Grand Slam-winning coach and former Leinster and Ireland U20s boss Mike and Irish mother Bernadette grew up in Swansea. Both moved to Dublin to join the Leinster academy, representing the Ireland U20s together in Japan at the 2009 Junior World Championship, the season before Mike took charge of the team.
A decade later and the siblings are back together in an Ireland squad on Japanese soil but on different sides of the fence. They are firm friends within a tight-knit rugby family, with a high-achieving father who has never forced his opinion or love of rugby onto his boys and offers advice on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.
That advice is taken more often than it is left and has served them well, even after the pair saw their career paths diverge when second-row Ciarán, 21 months older than Rhys having turned 30 last February, was released by Leinster in 2013 after three years in the academy.
He continued playing with St Mary’s College in the All Ireland League and went on to captain the club as well as earning Ireland Club international recognition in 2018. Yet rugby was coming second to Ciarán’s real passion, strength and conditioning, which saw him open a boutique gym in central Dublin five years ago.
With Leinster players among his clients, the links with rugby remained. And when Ireland’s head of S&C Jason Cowman needed assistance in overseeing an increasingly large national squad, the IRFU brought Ciarán into camp last November to assist over the long lead-in to the World Cup campaign.
The brothers could not be happier in each other’s company, back in Japan.
“It’s awesome,” Rhys said yesterday.
“I haven’t seen a huge amount of him because he’s a lot busier than I am with the schedule he’s got, he is working hard as always. But it’s definitely great to be here.
“It’s hugely proud for the family, they’ve been trying to get updates but the problem is neither of us are great with the phones! But they’re full of excitement for both of us.”
Sitting alongside his younger brother as the pair shared the limelight during a media conference at the team hotel in Chiba yesterday, Ciarán spoke of the unique opportunity to work with the Ireland squad.
“It’s been a brilliant experience. It’s been awesome working with Jason. You’ve got a guy there with so much experience and knowledge. It’s been one of the best educational things I have done as a coach.
“To be involved in this environment with so many good coaches, to work with the calibre of athletes I get to work with every day is superb. Everyone in this environment is brilliant. It’s a really energising, positive environment to be a part of.”
Not being handed a professional contract by Leinster clearly stung but Ciarán had already set a course towards a career in S&C. ‘It was difficult but towards the end. I was not playing or enjoying my rugby like I had before so it was kind of at that point, I felt that I wanted to transition to something different so myself and my friend Rory set up the gym along with another guy, Mike.
“From there, the three of us started to build it and then I was just playing rugby with St Mary’s. That transition, for the first while, was tough but then after that you just start having new goals, set yourself new targets and chase new things.
“I’m probably a better coach than I am a rugby player so it’s fantastic to be involved here.
“I’m still really passionate about it and I still have got the itch to go back and play at some stage as well but to be a part of this environment and part of a team again is what I’ve always enjoyed.
“I’ve always enjoyed working together with people towards a goal as opposed to just doing something just for myself.”
He admits that returning to Japan 10 years on has prompted thoughts of what might have been, but the fitness coach remains philosophical.
“It might have been that I never had all those opportunities, but all the disappointment around that time (when released by Leinster) has helped me to come out with loads of learnings, has made me a stronger person and a better coach.
“I’m able to coach guys now and try and give them the focus and the support I would have liked at that time. It makes you a better person, a better coach.”
Even when it comes to working with his little brother.
“There’s no difficulty at all,” Ciarán added. “You just try to make sure that everyone knows you’re treating everyone exactly the same. Luckily Rhys is extremely good to work with as are all the lads. It’s been a lot easier than you might think. You might think that there is a perception of favouritism or whatever, but there’s none of that.”
Rhys agreed, adding: “I don’t mind him telling me what to do when he’s such an expert in his field. If it’s outside of strength and conditioning and that type of stuff, I might push away a bit.
"There’s no issues there. I’ve worked with him in his gym in Dublin as well and seeing him before he came into this environment, he’s absolutely class at what he does.
"He does it in such a good manner that it’s easy to take the information on board. It’s a pleasure and I think all the lads are really enjoying his input and the way he deals with people.”