Rhys Ruddock bore the air of a man intent on looking straight ahead as he spoke to the media ahead of Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup opener against Benetton.
It wasn’t to be. This was a chat that was always going to involve plenty of glances in the rear view mirror, whether he liked it or not. Much of it actually revolved around his own good form during Ireland’s disappointing venture in Japan.
Ruddock finished last season in some style with Leinster and he picked up in much the same fashion for his country. Yet his efforts were deemed worthy of minimal reward as Joe Schmidt stuck to his guns in the back row and elsewhere.
Call it loyalty or stubbornness or staleness but the Ireland head coach’s unwillingness to reward the form of men like Ruddock, Andrew Conway, and Jordan Larmour now sits as just one file among many in the case against the Kiwi following his team’s dismal World Cup effort.
Was Ruddock aware of any clamour made for his inclusion at the time?
“From my parents?” he joked. “I was aware of my mum thinking that I should have played more, but apart from that ... Look, the environment that you’re in, the games come around fast and it’s just such an intense block of work that you’re just trying to focus on the here and now.”
All in its good time. Let’s linger in Japan for now.
Ruddock was no different to everyone else on his return from Asia. There was the obligatory week spent souring the mood at home as he mulled over what went wrong, but his frustration must have been personal as well as collective.
This is not the first time that he has had to play second fiddle or miss out entirely on a big game or games, for club or country, even when fit. The back row reserves available to both units in recent years has seen to that.
But there is an acknowledgement that a single start, against Russia, and a pair of fourth-quarter cameos against the hosts and New Zealand amounted to an overall input that was somewhat less than satisfactory.
That can’t be easy for a player who is fit and hitting his straps, particularly when the team is labouring and in need of a lift wherever it can get it.
So how did he deal with it? Was he knocking on Schmidt’s door looking for answers?
“It’s a tricky balance. Once you’re part of a team the games come thick and fast and it’s such a huge thing to be a part of. So you don’t want to be sapping energy or anything. It’s part of being a professional. You find your reason and you move on and you’ve got to commit to preparing the team as best you can.”
Operation Moving On is already well under way. Ruddock was one of five World Cup returnees who featured in the 31-point defeat of Connacht in Galway on Monday night. Impressive though the performance and the result were, they were in keeping with an unblemished start to the season from the province.
If there was a fear that the disappointment from Japan could infect the dressing room with 14 players filtering back in from national duties, then the opposite appears to have been the case.
“As well, we’ve kind of come in at different times, depending on how much rugby we played over there,” said Ruddock.
“You come in and you pick up on the environment and the atmosphere in the building and the people walking around.
“That positive energy has worn off on us as opposed to ... I don’t think anyone was carrying the disappointment into the building and dragging people down.
“I hope people would tell us if we were, but it’s been a hugely positive block for the guys that are playing here.”