Sean McMahon reporting from Chiba.
In Irish rugby, there has been no shortage of sets of brothers who have either played for their country or being involved at provincial level at least.
Rob and Dave Kearney would be the most recent example but going back through the years, you would have Richard, Paul and David Wallace, Simon and Rory Best, Guy and Simon Easterby and David and Ian Humphreys.
Another set would be current Ireland international Rhys Ruddock and his brother Ciarán but they are currently in very different stages of their respective careers.
28-year-old Rhys, of course, is in Japan as part of Ireland’s 31-man Rugby World Cup squad whereas Ciarán is currently a strength & conditioning coach with the national side.
Interestingly, both players were on the 2009 side which competed at the U20 World Cup in Japan. 10 years on, they have returned.
“Yeah, it’s awesome,” Rhys said.
“We were here 10 years ago in Japan for the U20 World Cup, playing together, so I was obviously delighted when I found out I was going to be coming and even more so that Ciarán was going to be here to share it with. I haven’t seen a huge amount of him because he’s a lot busier than I am with the schedule he’s got at the moment, working hard as always. But it’s definitely great to be out here with him and have him beside me.”
Ciarán, who came on board with the Irish team as a strength and conditioning coach last November, said:
“It’s been a brilliant experience. Obviously I got the opportunity in November and since then I’ve loved it. It’s been awesome working with Jason (Cowman). You’ve got a guy there with so much experience and knowledge. It’s been one of the best educational things I have done as a coach, to be able to work with him and learn from him.”
In 2009, Ireland beat Argentina and Uruguay in the pool stages but suffered a heavy defeat to a New Zealand side captained by Aaron Cruden which put a stop to their chances of reaching the semi-finals.
“When we came over to Japan we did pretty okay against New Zealand,” Ciaran said.
“We gave them a game and played closer to our potential but then after that, we had a few injuries and we kinda didn’t maybe finish as strong. I loved that team and I loved being over here. From a cultural perspective, it was so different for a 19-year old coming over to Japan and learning about the culture here and getting to play in some of the stadiums.
“I remember the support. You go into the first game and you’re not sure how many people are going to be there. Then you go in and there are bigger crowds than at many of our other games. Lots of schoolchildren there as well. I remember they were cheering on Jack McGrath. They had some signs out for him. It was brilliant.”
Famously in that game against New Zealand, Ireland confronted the Baby Blacks as they were performing the Haka. An idea, in hindsight, which wasn’t wise considering Ireland fell to a 0-17 defeat.
“I was captain that day because Pete (O’Mahony) was unable to play,” Ciarán said.
“We discussed it and said we were going to do that. It was obviously nerve-racking to do that because you’re not sure how it is going to go. As I was walking to the pitch the referee caught wind that we were going to do it and said we were not allowed to advance to the haka. I was like, ‘it’s way too far gone, we’ve gotta do it!’
“We did it anyway but, yeah, it didn’t get us the result we wanted but in terms of experiences as a player, it was unbelievable to do that and to get the opportunity to play against New Zealand for the first time. And especially to do it with Rhys. I always enjoyed playing with Rhys and having the opportunity to line up alongside him, whether I was second row and he was flanker or, towards the end when I played flanker with him. They were always special.”
It is clear that Ciarán and Rhys are quite close with one another and it looks like that bond will be beneficial to both as they will no doubt encounter some difficult times in the weeks ahead in what will be a highly-pressurised tournament.
“Obviously, you just try to make sure that everyone knows you’re treating everyone exactly the same,” Ciarán said.
“I don’t think, luckily Rhys is extremely good to work with and all the lads are extremely good to work with. It’s actually been a lot easier than you might think. You might think that there is a perception of favouritism or whatever, but there’s none of that.”
“Ciaran doesn’t pick the team anyway!
“So it’s not too bad. For me anyway, me and Ciaran are so close. We lived together for the past three years, before that as well since I was like 18 anyway. We’ve always lived out of home together. We’re hugely close and I don’t mind being in close proximity, spending a lot of time together. So from that end, it’s fine.
“I don’t mind him telling me what to do when he’s such an expert in his field and things like that. If it’s outside of strength and conditioning and that type of stuff, I might put the back up and push away a bit. There are no issues there. I’ve actually worked with him in his gym in Dublin as well and seeing him before he came into this environment, he’s absolutely class at what he does.
“He does it in such a good manner that it’s easy to take the information on board and try to impress him and make sure you’re making an improvement. It’s a pleasure and I think all the lads are really enjoying his input and the way he deals with people, so it’s great.”