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Last Updated: Monday, 21 March, 2005, 09:20 GMT
Ruddock shapes Welsh revolution
By Bryn Palmer

Strange to think that a little over a year ago when he took the job, Mike Ruddock was a controversial choice as Wales coach.

Mike Ruddock celebrates with the RBS Six Nations trophy
Preferred by the Welsh Rugby Union to the popular and respected Llanelli Scarlets coach Gareth Jenkins, his appointment was hardly greeted with universal acclaim.

Twelve months on, Ruddock is a national hero, having achieved something close to a sporting miracle - a Six Nations Grand Slam at his first attempt.

Even Sir Clive Woodward only won one, and that was at the sixth time of asking.

So how has Ruddock transformed a side that endured 10 defeats in a row two years ago into Grand Slam champions?

In truth, the seeds of recovery were partially sown before he took over.

Steve Hansen might not have courted the affection of the Welsh people, and his record was poor in terms of results.

But the taciturn New Zealander at least instilled a more professional attitude into the national squad.

Fitness levels rose under the guidance of strength and conditioning coach Andrew Hore, and Wales started to be competitive again.

There remains some doubt, though, whether the famous "shackles off" performance against the All Blacks in the World Cup occurred by accident or design.

Having thrown in a second-string side, it is believed the impetus for dispensing with caution came from the players themselves, who had nothing to lose.

WALES UNDER RUDDOCK
Wales 42-0 Barbarians
Argentina 50-44 Wales
Argentina 20-35 Wales
South Africa 53-18 Wales
Wales 36-38 South Africa
Wales 66-7 Romania
Wales 25-26 New Zealand
Wales 98-0 Japan
Wales 11-9 England
Italy 8-38 Wales
France 18-24 Wales
Scotland 22-46 Wales
Wales 32-20 Ireland
Pld 13 W 9 D 0 L 4
But that display, and the scare they gave England in the subsequent quarter-final, provided the genesis for the revolution Ruddock has shaped.

"I saw glimpses in the World Cup about what Wales were doing, and it was certainly very attractive to watch and also very effective," he said.

"When I took over as coach, I sat down with (Wales skills coach) Scott Johnson and discussed that style of rugby.

"I think the game has changed now.

"With defences being so organised, if you seek contact, teams are doubling up in the tackle, stopping off-loads, slowing the ball down and then they fold around the rucks, so by the time you pass the ball back to the backs, there are about 14 guys ready to defend against you.

"It just makes sense in the modern game to try and avoid that scenario, particularly from set-pieces, and to try and play that bit wider."

It is also the style that comes most naturally to Welsh players, allowing them to live on their wits rather than being stymied by pre-ordained tactics.

Wales have thrived in this Six Nations playing a style of rugby that stirs the soul and gives expression to their innate attacking gifts.

But it is not enough to want to play a high-tempo, high risk, game.

You have to be extremely fit to do it, and have the skills to pull it off under pressure.

Adam Jones, Mefin Davies and Gethin Jenkins pack down for Wales
The front row trio have excelled
Hore and Johnson must therefore take great credit for their contribution to Wales' success.

Romantic rugby also needs a pragmatic core, and the improvement in the front five forwards has been the biggest factor in the Principality's re-emergence.

While the likes of Shane Williams and Gavin Henson garner the limelight, in Gethin Jenkins, Mefin Davies, Adam Jones, Brent Cockbain and Robert Sidoli, Wales have found a platform from which their dreams and aspirations can flourish.

Ruddock, a former hard-nut flanker himself, can take a bow for reinvigorating Welsh forward play as well as reigniting the old swagger and confidence behind the scrum.

Previously part of the Wales back-room team at the 1995 World Cup, he initially declined the opportunity to put himself forward as a candidate to succeed Hansen, who headed home to New Zealand after last year's Six Nations.

But the WRU executive asked Ruddock to reconsider his earlier decision, and when he duly agreed to make a presentation, was promptly offered the job on the spot.

How those officials must be congratulating themselves on their wisdom now.

Ruddock's own playing career ended early after a work accident in which he fell from a ladder and fractured his skull.

But after helping Wales climb off the bottom rung of Test rugby's ladder, his coaching vision is now fixed on the world.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Highlights: Wales 32-20 Ireland


Presentation: Wales lift the Six Nations Trophy


Interview: Wales' coach Mike Ruddock


Interview: Wales scrum-half Dwayne Peel



SEE ALSO
Ruddock gives 'licence to thrill'
28 Jan 05 |  Six Nations
Patience rewards Ruddock
11 Mar 04 |  Welsh
Ruddock lands Wales job
11 Mar 04 |  Welsh


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