Mike Ruddock has spent 30 years coaching teams as diverse as Mumbles RFC, Bective Rangers,
Leinster and the Welsh national side. Today he attempts to guide Lansdowne to their second
Ulster Bank League Division One title in three years.
Q: What’s it like for a coach the week of a big final?
A: It’s particularly frustrating this week because a lot of my boys are in third-level education and there’s a lot of exams. I have a particularly young crop so they are all ringing me to say they can’t make training.
I did have plans to have a session on Monday, but we had to abandon that. We take confidence from the fact that we trained together all season and know each other’s games inside out. We’ll just get on with that.
Q: How would you rate the standard of the Ulster Bank League right now?
A: Let me tell you, I’ve coached in the English Premiership, in the old Celtic League and Europe with Gwent Dragons and Leinster, underage internationals, senior internationals and I’ve got to say this is every bit as challenging.
It is a very good standard and people underestimate it. I see the effort and commitment from these boys and it has been heartwarming. They have their day jobs and yet they are in the gym at seven some mornings, training in the evenings up to three times a week.
They have personal bespoke training programmes and diets and then playing on Saturdays. They’ve got to do that close to nine months a season. It’s a massive commitment and they are amateurs. I can only take my hat off to them.
Hopefully the rugby on display in the final will reinforce that belief and people will want to come out more often to see teams play in the Ulster Bank League.
Q: So, could the provinces look to pick up more late developers in the League than they have?
A: What’s encouraging is that the provinces now are looking very closely at the Ulster Bank League and saying there are players there worthy of consideration. Two of Clontarf’s front row, for example, have been given Leinster contracts and deservedly so.
That’s fantastic because we have gone overseas for props the last while. Now we are recognising that this league is producing them and we have already seen Marty Moore come out of the league a few years ago with Lansdowne. Now he’s playing international rugby, so it’s a great breeding ground for guys.
We are proud of the fact that we have produced a lot of players for the pro game already, people like Matt Healy, Craig Ronaldson, Conor McKeown with Connacht, Clive Ross and Charlie Butterworth up in Ulster and Marty Moore and Jordi Murphy have played for us in this league as well. This is very often the chance to see the next generation of players as they come through.
Q: Your relationship with club rugby in Ireland goes back 25 years now, doesn’t it?
A: Yeah, Mick Cuddy and the current IRFU president Louis Magee got in contact with me and asked me to come over and coach Bective Rangers and I thoroughly enjoyed the year. It was a great introduction to Irish rugby.
We were always a little bit arrogant about our rugby in Wales, particularly after the 70s when we grew up watching those great sides, so it was great to come over and sample it somewhere else and leave my Welsh bias behind.
I came over and I was immediately indoctrinated into the quality and the merits of Irish club rugby. I loved that season and would have stayed longer, but my old club Swansea asked me to go back and coach them so I went back over to Wales to do that.
Still, I had a great insight from my time in Bective into the intensity of the rivalries and the game in general and that served me well for when I came back to coach Leinster.
Q: You’ve had a more varied coaching career than most, why is that?
A: A lot of people say to me that the highlight must have been winning the Grand Slam with Wales and I say, ‘no, it was winning Division Three Southwest with Mumbles!’ I just enjoy my rugby.
Wherever I coach I try to give my heart and soul to it and I always enjoy it. I’ve been very fortunate to be involved for such a long time.
Unfortunately, I got injured when I was still only 26. I had played for the Wales B team, I had played for Swansea against Australia and the Maoris and I thought of myself as a reasonable player and got into the Welsh squad a few times.
When my injuries prevented me from carrying on at only 26 I knew I’d miss the game so I threw myself into coaching. Didn’t know much about it — and some would argue I probably still don’t.
Thirty years later I find myself enjoying it as much as ever. It has kept me in the dressing room and allowed me to enjoy the mentality and the camaraderie with the lads. It has taught me a lot of life lessons as well.
The ups and downs. You can’t win every time or in every situation. You’ve gotta deal with adversity and success. It’s a fantastic sport. I’ve had some tough times and some great times as well.
Q: So, are there a few more chapters to be written in your coaching story?
A: I actually turned down an opportunity to do some coaching with a team in America this summer and I turned down another approach from Hong Kong a couple of months ago to link up with the union there.
I’m forever having people ask me to look at new challenges, but I love what I do here. I’ve also recently taken up a role with Acorn Global Recruitment, so I’m helping them to develop their recruitment portfolio here.
That’s quite a challenge and it gives me a nice balance with the rugby which isn’t full-time in the Ulster Bank League. That’s good because, even though I love rugby, too much of one thing can make it a little bit more intense when you are doing it over 30 years.
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