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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 February 2006, 11:26 GMT
Ruddock's legacy
By Sean Davies

So national coach Mike Ruddock departs to spring the biggest surprise in Welsh rugby since... well, since he was appointed to the job in 2004.

Wales coach Mike Ruddock and successor Scott Johnson
Splits in Wales' camp are believed to have led to Ruddock's exit

And that includes last year's amazing run to a first Grand Slam since 1978, when Ruddock established himself as the country's most successful coach since John Dawes.

But while his departure has stunned the public, the fault lines that had developed in the Wales camp mean the actual timing was more of a shock than the 46-year-old's ultimate exit.

Two years ago, Gareth Jenkins had been favourite to replace Steve Hansen, but Ruddock was the candidate with the widest experience after impressive spells with Swansea, Leinster, Ebbw Vale, the Dragons and Wales A.

Ruddock inherited a squad that had come through a record losing streak under Hansen with encouraging performances in the 2003 World Cup and the following Six Nations.

David Nash, 1967-8
4 games, resigned
Clive Rowlands, 1968-74
29 games, full term
John Dawes, 1974-9
24 games, full term
John Lloyd, 1980-82
14 games, full term
John Bevan, 1982-5
15 games, resigned (ill health)
Tony Gray, 1985-8
24 games, full term
John Ryan, 1988-90
9 games, resigned
Ron Waldron, 1990-91
10 games, resigned (ill health)
Alan Davies, 1991-5
35 games, resigned
Alex Evans, 1995
4 games (caretaker)
Kevin Bowring, 1995-8
29 games, resigned (1st professional coach)
Dennis John
2 games, caretaker only
Graham Henry, 1998-2002
34 games, resigned
Lynn Howells, 2001
2 games, caretaker only
Steve Hansen, 2002-4
31 games, full term
Mike Ruddock, 2004-6
22 games, resigned
Scott Johnson, 2006-

And he took that on by solidifying the forward platform and making shrewd selections.

If Graham Henry, Steve Hansen, Scott Johnson and Andrew Hore had laid the foundations of fitness and belief in the squad, Ruddock enhanced his reputation as a winner who knew the balance between performance and results.

An impressive summer tour and 2004 autumn series was followed by last year's memorable Six Nations triumph.

All seemed rosy in the Welsh camp, but tensions began to surface after an injury-ravaged squad lost 41-3 to New Zealand in the autumn.

Rumours emerged of a split, with skills coach Johnson and the players on one side, Ruddock isolated on the other.

The coach, a traditional Gwent forwards man, was keen to lay a solid platform up front, but - the whispers suggested - the players considered him old-fashioned, did not respect his methods, and wanted an accentuated version of their attacking game.

The journalist who broke the story on the eve of the 24-22 win over Australia was rubbished by the camp, as Ruddock and captain Gareth Thomas repeated the mantra of team spirit and togetherness.

Although Ruddock's new contract remained unsigned, the first win over the Wallabies since 1987 seemed to calm discontent, and Wales' all-action attack was carried into the Six Nations opener at Twickenham.

But after the 47-13 loss to England, it was the players who appeared to be calling for a more sensible game approach, while Ruddock talked of sticking to Wales' so-called "sexy rugby".

And the players' walk-out at last week's pre-Scotland media conference was the flash that blew the powder keg.

Ruddock was embarrassingly left to face the media alone in what the Wales camp continue to insist was a misjudged protest against journalist Graham Thomas, the writer of Gavin Henson's book.

The incident isolated Ruddock and - when he failed to receive the full backing of the players and the Welsh Rugby Union - it increasingly appears like he felt he had to exit.

Stand-in coach Johnson's reaction when asked to comment on Ruddock's reign was telling.

"He's a good coach," said the Australian.

You could almost hear the full stop.

Born: Blaina, 05/09/59
1992: Appointed Swansea coach after an industrial accident had shortened playing career, sees his team beat world champions Australia
1993: Wins league title
1994: Wins league title
1995: Swansea win Welsh Cup, assists Alex Evans with Wales at the World Cup
1997: Head coach at Leinster
2000: Back to Wales as Ebbw Vale and Wales 'A' coach
2003: Coach of Gwent Dragons, ends Wales' 11-game losing streak as caretaker coach against Romania
2004: Appointed Wales coach
2005: Leads Wales to first Grand Slam since 1978, wins OBE
2006: Leaves Wales job

Johnson is the man the players want, although it remains to be seen whether he will lead them beyond the Six Nations.

Anyone else would face a thankless task in trying to command such an entrenched squad, and there are no obvious Welsh candidates.

But if the players get their wish and Johnson takes them forward, they will have a lot to live up to in their performances.

The selective yet elephantine memory of the Welsh rugby fan will remember Ruddock's triumphs - *15 wins in 22 games in charge - and the approachable, professional attitude he always gave to the public.

A win over New Zealand next autumn, a 2007 Grand Slam and a realistic challenge at the World Cup could be the daunting minimum requirement if the squad are not to be forever burdened with the cry "if only Ruddock was still in charge..."

*Including a non-cap game against the Barbarians and a Test with Romania as caretaker coach during Hansen's reign

News conference: WRU chief announces Ruddock's exit

Interview: Wales caretaker manager Scott Johnson

Interview: Former Wales captain Gareth Davies

Welsh shocked by Ruddock's exit
15 Feb 06 |  Six Nations
Ruddock steps down as Wales coach
14 Feb 06 |  Six Nations
Johnson ready for Wales challenge
14 Feb 06 |  Six Nations
Ruddock hints at new Wales deal
02 Jan 06 |  Six Nations
Ruddock backs Henson ban appeal
01 Jan 06 |  European Club
Modest Ruddock takes 'team' medal
31 Dec 05 |  Six Nations
Ruddock 'close' to new Wales deal
27 Aug 05 |  Six Nations
Ruddock lands Wales job
11 Mar 04 |  Welsh



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