Every pack in Aviva Premiership Rugby would be improved by the collective nous of Donncha O’Callaghan and Phil Dowson – and young Worcester Warriors prop Val Rapava Ruskin admits they’ve helped settle any nerves at Sixways.
The Warriors clearly mean business on their return to Aviva Premiership Rugby after toppling Northampton Saints, who were crowned champions the year Worcester were relegated in 2013/14.
It took a last-ditch Tom Heathcote drop-goal and the 13-12 scoreline could have been greater in their favour if not for a slew of missed Worcester kicks, though it was their stingy defence that stuck out the most.
Dean Ryan’s men recorded a 92 per cent tackle success rate against the Saints, the best of any team in Round One, and it’s no coincidence that both Dowson and O’Callaghan were on the pitch until the very end.
Back-rower Dowson has racked up more than 200 Aviva Premiership Rugby appearances in his time with Saints and Newcastle Falcons, while long-time Munster and Ireland lock O’Callaghan needed no introduction in Worcester.
And loosehead Rapava Ruskin, who is hoping to make his Aviva Premiership Rugby debut this week, is in no doubt that that the pair were a driving force behind the Warriors’ flying start.
“Phil and Donncha have made a huge difference in the forwards, when you bring in experience like that you can’t help but learnt a lot off them and they conduct themselves on and off the field,” he said.
“Whether it’s in the scrum or in the maul, anything forwards-related they give you the advice and confidence to improve your own game. To have people like that I can play with pushes us on as youngsters.
“Personally I believe the best form of attack is defence and that philosophy has worked well for a lot of Premiership teams.
“The standard is a big difference between the Championship and Premiership, and the defensive act of the game is something we’ve worked very hard on to stop their quality.
“But one of the best things about Worcester is that you can really express yourself on the field, so it’s all about getting the balance right.”
Georgia-born Rapava Ruskin has proved a smash hit since linking up with the Warriors last year and scored seven tries in their Championship-winning campaign.
Having grown up in England, he has tasted rugby on the books with Saracens, in South Africa and even spent time with Toulon in 2013 – but he’s ruled out an appearance on the international stage for now.
“It means everything for me to be involved in the Premiership after going through a few injuries coming up through the ranks,” the 23-year-old added.
“I always had the will and I had no doubt about the strength in me to keep on going and give it my all to reach this level. I’m really proud of the fact that Dean (Ryan) saw my ability and that he had the belief in my talent to give me the chance at Worcester.
“I’m very proud of my Georgian roots and especially what they have accomplished in the World Cup, but my main objective is to do my part for the team here at Worcester.
“I’m still very young and don’t have to rush into any choices, though of course I am humbled to be invited to be a part of the group at Georgia.
“My loyalties lie at Worcester and getting better and better, but later in my career if I have the ability to partake as an international then that’s something that would be great.”
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