Rhys Ruddock is Ireland’s most recent Test captain and a winning one at that, yet the versatile back rower knows better than most that selection for the next international is never guaranteed.
Given the former Ireland U20 skipper earned his Test debut while still in the Leinster academy in the summer of 2010 and then didn’t get a second cap until March 2014, the back rower has learned to be patient.
Ruddock, 27 in 10 days, skippered a somewhat developmental Ireland team to three victories from three during the summer, once against the USA and twice in Japan.
Yet with an all-Lions Test back row of Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and CJ Stander having rejoined the Ireland camp after a summer on tour in New Zealand, the Leinster player is realistic about his chances of staying in Joe Schmidt’s starting line-up to face South Africa in Dublin a week on Saturday.
“You can’t directly control (selection) but what you can you control is that no matter what decisions are made, how you conduct yourself thereafter,” Ruddock said.
“Do whatever you can up until that point, whatever decisions are made, show that you are there to be part of the team and to help the team prepare whatever your involvement is, and then I think that stands to you in the future.
“You’ll always have that disappointment but having been in that position before I’ve learned that the best way to deal with it for the team, but also for yourself, is not to dwell on it too long because you take longer to bounce back and you also don’t perform well in training. Whatever happens, deal with it, dust yourself off and move on, and hopefully you get your opportunity later on.”
With Tests against Fiji and Argentina to follow on successive Saturdays, Ruddock seems set to add to his 16 Ireland caps at some stage this month and his leadership skills are sure to be called upon by head coach Schmidt after an exemplary summer tour as captain.
Ruddock acknowledges that leading his country has changed his approach.
“I loved it. It was an amazing experience. It was a huge honour and privilege.
“Maybe you don’t realise it a huge amount at the time, it definitely had some effect. Any sort of experience like that where you are given a responsibility and things go pretty well, it’s a positive and enjoyable experience, it definitely has an effect.
“It was a positive experience and enjoyable. I learned a lot and it helped me to grow as a player and a leader as well. I can’t put my finger on it, exactly how, but definitely it was a very powerful experience and it will stand to me.”
Being a regular member of Schmidt’s Ireland squad has, Ruddock believes, given him the confidence to perform well at Test level.
“It definitely benefits you as a player if you’ve been around this playing group and staff for a long time. I found that having the exposure to this level of international training, the longer you do it the more confidence you have of performing at this level.
"A lot of the guys have been here under Joe for a long time and that gives the group confidence and you can rely on that experience,” he added.
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