Joe Schmidt’s “incredible impact” has made Ireland believe they can beat anyone in the world, according to Rhys Ruddock.
Leinster flanker Ruddock will captain Ireland in Saturday’s Dublin Test clash with the United States, with boss Schmidt having made 14 changes from the side that stunned back-to-back world champions New Zealand 16-9 last weekend.
Head coach Schmidt will announce his decision on his long-term future next week, with the Kiwi expected to return to his native New Zealand after next year’s World Cup when his Ireland contract expires.
Schmidt has guided Ireland from eighth to second in the world rankings and overseen three Six Nations titles in five years – and Ruddock believes because of the 53-year-old the men in green now fear no one.
“I think probably from an outsider’s point of view, what you see, it’s pretty black and white. Joe’s impact, it’s there for everyone to see,” said Ruddock.
“It’s obvious he’s an incredible coach and he’s had an incredible impact on the environment as well in Leinster. I was able to experience that first-hand and now with Ireland as well.
“But the impact he has on the group, and the belief over the long term, that has grown and grown. We’re very lucky we’ve got him and the other coaches in the set-up doing such a great job.
“When I was younger I wasn’t always able to see quite what he was trying to teach, but as you progress you see those intricacies. His rugby knowledge is second-to-none.
“Up until now we’ve done well and done what we can, and the work done behind the scenes and producing big performances and results, that just feeds the belief all the time.
“But the most important thing now will be the next few months leading into the World Cup.
“We want to go into the World Cup in good form, but right now for the group is a big challenge this weekend.
“The Six Nations is further down the track, but that’s another incredible opportunity to test ourselves against some of the best teams in the world.
“As a playing group you’ve got to be very short-term focused, but we know the coaches have a longer-term plan.”
Ruddock’s status as captain of Ireland’s change XV underscores the impressive depth in Schmidt’s squad, especially in the back-row.
The 28-year-old ranks among a number of Ireland’s extended squad already battling to prove their point for selection for next year’s World Cup side.
Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Sean O’Brien are inked in as Ireland’s frontline back-row at present, with Josh Van Der Flier and Jordi Murphy pushing hard on the rails.
A strong showing from Ruddock this weekend will doubtless boost his own chances no end however, and he revealed his pride at being trusted by Schmidt to captain the side in Rory Best’s absence.
“Joe gave me the opportunity to captain Leinster when I was just 21, and he’s helped me grow as a leader from there.
“Being captain is a massive honour. Maybe it shows a little bit of respect from the players; that’s the main thing I would hope.
“But I think there’s added responsibility in terms of getting my own performance right and leading from the front.”
Asked if Saturday represents a World Cup trial for Ireland’s fringe players, Ruddock replied: “Not for us as a playing group. We live in such a bubble it really is week to week.
“All we’ve been thinking about is the USA and the threats they have.
“I’m sure there are things that it will lead to in terms of pecking order and selection. But we’ve only had a week to prepare, so getting our detail right is paramount.”