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No mixed loyalties for Rhys Ruddock in the Six Nations

By Jonathan Bradley

The Six Nations is rarely a time for divided loyalties but in his youth, an Ireland against Wales fixture would stir something of a conflict in Rhys Ruddock.

Born in Dublin to an Irish mother and Welsh father - the former Leinster coach Mike Ruddock - the flanker's earliest memories of the championship are tinged both green and red.

The waters were muddied further when Mike succeeded Steve Hansen in the Wales hotseat and led them to the 2005 Grand Slam.

"I remember my mum always throwing the Irish jersey on me and maybe my dad trying to pull it off and chuck a Welsh one on," he recalled.

"At that stage of my life I remember myself and my mum being big Irish fans but when my dad had the opportunity to coach Wales, we were big Welsh fans for that period of time and getting behind him.

"It's a funny one I suppose, supporting both teams down the line, but it's just the way it is with my dad's roots and my mum's roots.

"I must be a mummy's boy. Even with the Welsh name, I was the one born in Ireland. Ciaran (his older brother) has the Irish name but was born in Wales so I don't know where they got that one from.

"There was some logic apparently."

Having switched to Ireland after representing Wales at Under-18 level, there will be no such confusion at the Aviva on Sunday as Ireland's Six Nations title defence gets under way with a visit from Warren Gatland's men and Ruddock aims for a seventh cap.

Even with Ulster's Chris Henry and Peter O'Mahony absent, Joe Schmidt has plenty of options in the back-row, with newly qualified CJ Stander joining Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien in the mix, as Ireland look to negate what will be a potent unit of Welsh loose forwards.

"I haven't really been looking too far ahead because the selection hasn't been made," Ruddock said.

"Everyone is just trying to get back into the system and find their feet again.

"There is a lot of competition this year and everyone has been kept on edge, trying to go off every day and nail everything that has been thrown at them and put their hand up for selection.

"They (Wales) are known for their threat at the breakdown, depending on who they go with.

"They always have a good balanced back-row and whoever they decide to go with in the end, it will be one of their strongest areas."

Such is the level of competition for the jerseys six through eight, there has been speculation that Ruddock could be used in a second-row that is missing both Paul O'Connell through international retirement and Ulsterman Iain Henderson thanks to a hamstring injury.

The 25-year-old lined up in the engine room for Leinster against Wasps in the last round of Champions Cup action and, despite a comprehensive defeat, he embraced the change.

"I would be happy to play anywhere," he said.

"It wasn't the most enjoyable game. We were disappointed with the result and with the way that we played, so in that sense it wasn't very enjoyable, although I did like the second row aspect.

"There is a lot of competition there (in the second-row) too. It is not really something I am worrying too much about.

"I am just trying to nail down the role that's been given to me. Whether it is six, seven, eight or second row I don't really mind."

The number on the back of the jersey may not matter one bit to Ruddock, but nowadays there's no doubt about the colour.

Belfast Telegraph

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