Seán McMahon reporting from Chiba.
Rhys Ruddock has said that the Irish players are proud of how Bundee Aki has responded to criticism surrounding his eligibility for the Ireland team.
Former Ireland international Luke Fitzgerald criticised the potential inclusion of Aki ahead of Garry Ringrose on his podcast recently.
“He shouldn’t be in that team,” Fitzgerald said. “The guy is literally a blow-in. It’s going to annoy me watching it.
“Aki is getting away with it and it’s wrong and it doesn’t sit well with me. What’s going on here? We’re not picking any of the Irish guys? Ringrose has got the potential to be the next Drico.”
Of course, with Robbie Henshaw’s injury, it looks likely that Ringrose will start alongside Aki in midfield on Sunday when Ireland take on Scotland in their Pool A opener.
Aki, when he was up for media duties over the weekend, admirably took the high road and stated that he respects everyone’s opinion and that he has nothing against people who hold that particular view against him.
A dignified response to unfair criticism and Ruddock, speaking today at Ireland’s base in Chiba, says that the playing group are proud of how Aki has handled the situation.
“Yeah, hugely (proud),” Ruddock said.
“I don’t think anyone could argue with it. He’s probably one of the people that most displays the values of the group. Every time we see him play for Ireland, you really see the passion and the emotion that he brings. I think he represents the jersey with pride every single time.”
Ruddock was speaking alongside his brother Ciarán who is a former player himself and current strength & conditioning coach with the Irish team. They, of course, are the sons of Welsh-born Mike Ruddock, who coached Wales to the 2005 Grand Slam.
Rhys was born in Ireland but moved to Swansea as a child. He played age-grade rugby with Wales before signing for Leinster as a teenager alongside his older brother Ciarán.
“And obviously, people have opinions on these things and people might not know our full situation or are our background. They might hear the accent and might have an opinion on us playing for Ireland.
“It is what is is. I think everyone in the group is hugely proud and there is a huge responsibility associated with that jersey. I think everyone represents the group massively well.”