He has helped to nurture the talents of current professionals like Tom Farrell, Matt Healy and Craig Ronaldson, and now Mike Ruddock is hoping that the latest crop of Lansdowne players can make a name for themselves at the Aviva Stadium this weekend.
After an absence of three years, Lansdowne are back in an Ulster Bank League Division 1A final, preparing to face defending champions Cork Constitution on Sunday (kick-off 3pm). Now in his seventh season at the headquarters club, Mike Ruddock is ideally placed to make comparisons between the professional and amateur games here in Ireland.
“Let’s put them on the big stage, and if they deliver…there are guys that are capable, I think, in principal,” said the former Leinster and Wales head coach. “I talk to a lot of people and they’re a little bit dismissive, possibly, of this standard. But I see guys that are in the gym at seven, eight o’clock in the morning before they go to work. Lifting weights, following programmes.
“I see guys coming in the gym straight after work, training. Guys eating the right things. We’ve got a nutritionist who works with the club. We’ve got a conditioner at the club. We’ve got a video performance analyst at the club.
“I’ve got to tell you, I admire these guys. In the pro set-up, it’s fantastic and they get all the supports that you would expect with professional rugby. But in fairness to the club, we provide quite a lot of support to the guys. They put a lot of work in as well. It really is impressive.”
In addition to current Leinster squad members Tom Daly, Peter Dooley and Charlie Rock (whose availability for Sunday’s game is still unclear), Ruddock also has a former Munster out-half amongst his ranks.
Previously a member of Cork Constitution during his time as a provincial player, Scott Deasy has proven to be a revelation for Lansdowne since his arrival in Dublin back in 2013. While he has played a key role in their march to the final, the same could be said of his opposite number in the Con side.
Tomas Quinlan’s 17-point haul against Terenure College helped the Leesiders advance to their third consecutive league showdown, and Ruddock believes the half-back battle will have a huge bearing on the outcome of the title decider.
“They’re similar in the sense they’re both match-winning out-halves. I call them quarterbacks a bit these days, because they’re the guys that run the ship. Any good team, like Johnny Sexton with Ireland, as much as the coach is going to influence the team, you need guys who are going to organise it and are pivotal to the success of those strategies on the field.
“Someone like Quinlan is fantastic down at Con, and just look at their record. Their pack is very strong and key guys there with a lot of big-game intellectual property. Then you have half-backs who dictate matters and boys outside who can score and finish.”
Though Cork Con defeated Lansdowne in last year’s league semi-final, Ruddock’s men claimed the spoils in the recent Bateman Cup final between the two teams. A 32-12 win at Temple Hill last month ensures they on course for a coveted All-Ireland double, but Ruddock insists an element of luck will be needed on Sunday afternoon.
“We played really well and executed our game-plan very well (last time out against Con), and on the day it fell for us. A couple of bounces went our way. You talk about losing, there was a bounce there last year in the semi-final and they scored a try.
“In the Bateman Cup final, the bounce went our way and the year before the bounce went their way. It could come down to that on Sunday, it could come down to it a little bit.”
This will be Lansdowne’s second match in quick succession on the Aviva Stadium’s main pitch, following their impressive 36-19 last-four triumph over Garryowen last weekend. Yet, history has taught Ruddock to focus on executing an effective game-plan rather than relying on home comforts.
“We spend 50% of our season on the astro-turf (on the back pitch). People always say to me that’s a massive home advantage on the astro-turf but hang on now, that means we have a massive disadvantage playing on grass. What we try to do is make those things totally irrelevant. It’s how we play the game.
“You learn over the years, if we have those little gremlins in your mind about home advantage or grass compared to astro. That’s what Leinster and Munster have done over the years. It doesn’t matter, just get the game-plan right and off you go,” he added.
Ulster Bank League final tickets are available from ticketmaster.ie and Ticketmaster outlets nationwide, priced at €;10 for adults. Under-18 tickets are free with an adult ticket. We encourage you to purchase tickets in advance of the match to avoid problems or queues on the day of the game.
Purchasers can avail of the TicketFast facility, allowing them to print their own tickets at home or work. TicketFast must be pre-printed – they cannot be scanned directly from a phone.
A Ticketmaster kiosk will be on located on Lansdowne Road outside the stadium for on-the-day sales. All entry to the stadium is through the gates on Lansdowne Road opposite the Elverys store. Any request for disabled access tickets should be made to firstname.lastname@example.org.