As the countdown to Irish Rugby’s highly-anticipated return edges closer, Leinster flanker Rhys Ruddock says the players are hugely appreciative of the extensive behind-the-scenes work that has gone on in recent weeks and months to help facilitate a safe restart to the Guinness PRO14 and Heineken Champions Cup seasons.
Following a break of five months, Leinster will resume their Pro14 campaign against Munster in a behind-closed-doors Inter-provincial derby at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening (KO 7.35pm), marking the start of a busy schedule for Leo Cullen‘s side as they bid to defend their league title and add a fifth European star.
The province have been gearing up towards Saturday’s restart since returning to training under the IRFU’s Return To Rugby protocols back in July, and as the first match day since 28th February nears, excitement levels are building among the playing group and supporters.
“It’s a massive challenge but one everyone is so excited about,” Ruddock says of the upcoming schedule. “To get back playing and competing for silverware, you couldn’t have asked for a better return.
“Everyone is focused on the fact that we’re very grateful we’re able to get back out and play again. It has been a difficult period for everyone in the country and we feel very lucky to hopefully go back and play in big games over the next couple of weeks.
“A couple of months ago, it was so hard to know when we would be playing and whether we’d actually get back out on the field. That’s the plan at the moment and fingers crossed it all goes to that plan but everyone is just hugely excited. Even to come back in here [to training] and have some form of normality. Being in here is the most normal part of our day and we’re grateful for it.”
The Ireland international says the players recognise the assiduous planning that has enabled them to get back training and playing, with the IRFU, the four provinces, the Aviva Stadium and the tournament organisers all working closely to get rugby back.
Ruddock continues: “A lot of things are hugely different but we’re still getting to do our job and after such a long time of training on our own, we’re just so hugely grateful for everyone inside the environment and everyone in the wider community who has allowed us to get to this point and hopefully to the point of playing. It’s hugely exciting and we can’t wait.”
After such an extended break, 29-year-old Ruddock admits he has a ‘new-found appreciation of the job we get to do’ ahead of what promises to be an exciting period for Cullen’s Leinster, who will go head-to-head with Ulster on 29th August before their Pro14 semi-final date.
“When you’re in the midst of season after season sometimes you can forget how lucky you are and that period off has freshened up the body and freshened up the mind,” he adds. “I’ve a new found appreciation of the job we get to do.
“I tried to take the time off and be as productive as I could and I definitely feel I got a mental reset – but now I’m chomping at the bit to play again.”