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Ulster Bank League Profile: Mike Ruddock On Lansdowne

Ulster Bank League Profile: Mike Ruddock On Lansdowne

Division 1A action in the Ulster Bank League makes a return this weekend after the seasonal break. To kick things off, Gavin O’Leary caught up with Mike Ruddock, head coach of current top flight leaders Lansdowne.

Mike Ruddock, father of Leinster and Ireland back rower Rhys, has considerable experience in both the amateur and professional game after stints with Leinster, the Ireland Under-20s and as head coach of his native Wales with whome he won the Grand Slam in his first season in charge.

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Ruddock is certainly enjoying life at the Ulster Bank League. “The set-up in Lansdowne is better than some of the bigger clubs I’e been with,” he laughs.

“This league is the pinnacle of club rugby in Ireland. It’s become a real breeding ground for new talent too. Look at Rory and Niall Scannell (Munster and Ireland). I can remember coaching those guys in the Ireland U-20s, and coaching against them when they were playing for Dolphin.

“Without the league, players like them wouldn’t be able to hone their skills. These guys come out of provincial Academies and turn to the Ulster Bank League to help them secure pro contracts. We’ve had players line out for us, and within a few seasons they’re playing in crunch Champions Cup games. It’s fantastic to see.”

Lansdowne’s current from is in stark contrast to last season where they finished seventh in the Division 1A table with just eight wins throughout the campaign.

Having won two league titles in recent years, the slip was disappointing. “Finishing seventh wasn’t easy for us,” admitted Ruddock. “In a way, we understood the reasons why we didn’t reach a play-off place.

“We lost almost all of our forwards during the post season. Only (club captain) Ian Prendiville remained. The other guys either got a pro contract or left for work. Last season was about rebuilding. We’ve had to do that almost every time we’ve had a strong team.

“The first year we won the Ulster Bank League, we lost 13 of our squad. Players like Craig (Ronaldson) and Matt (Healy) went on to professional contracts with Connacht.”

Ruddock and Lansdowne approached the problem from a positive angle. “With players leaving, it allowed us to bring in younger guys and give them experience. I think last year as a unit we learned a lot, and that education is paying off this season.”

Can such a turnaround in under a year really be down to maintaining and solidifying a squad, or has something else changed behind the scenes?

Ruddock explained: “Nothing has been done differently. When you have high numbers and high quality in training, the intensity increases. Leaders come to the fore who want to see Lansdowne win and that passion rubs off on the team. It puts us on a new level.”

This new-found intensity is being channelled towards establishing Lansdowne as the strongest possible team inside the whitewash. Off the pitch, they pay particular attention to their ‘trademarks’ and player development.

“We look at how we conduct ourselves in the gym, and how we approach video analysis and training. Things like punctuality and respect are hugely important. We work on all those areas, because if we get them right it makes us a better team.

“As a coach, I don’t set ‘goals’, I haven’t done them for years. Our trademarks push us to perform at the highest level consistently. Getting the little things right has a direct impact on the big things, which I think people are seeing with our results so far this season.”

This weekend sees Lansdowne make the trip south to face fellow title challengers Young Munster in Limerick. The sides’ clash in the capital in early December proved a tight affair. On that occasion Lansdowne ran out 30-24 winners and Ruddock is expecting another close encounter.

“Whoever hits the ground running will have the advantage. As a coach, I’ve never won down there, so it’s going to be a tough task. What I like about Young Munster is that they play a lot of really good rugby,” he added. “We won last time out, but it took a spectacular try to beat them. It was a massively open and physical game.”

Lansdowne take on Young Munster this Saturday at Tom Clifford Park. Kick-off is 2.30pm. This week’s Division 1A match previews are available to read here.