You are viewing the content for Saturday 25 February 2006

Under-fire Dragons primed for battle

By Matt Lloyd
WALES arrived in Ireland last night and for once will be happy their Six Nations Championship game is away from home.

It has been a tumultuous fortnight in the Valleys following the shock departure of Mike Ruddock and even in a city where their former coach is still well respected for his previous work with Leinster, the Welsh team’s Dublin hotel will seem a haven.

The after-shocks from Ruddock’s departure are still being felt throughout the rugby community at large, still baffled at how a Grand Slam winning coach could be moved to quit within 11 months and in the middle of a Six Nations.

Events took a further disturbing turn this week when skipper Gareth Thomas was rushed to hospital with a damaged artery in his neck that, left unchecked, could have caused a stroke-like paralysis.

There could be yet produce even more theatre to come with Ruddock threatening to take the WRU to court for constructive dismissal. That follows allegations that chief executive Steve Lewis, roundly criticised for his handling of contract negotiations with Ruddock, met with senior players to discuss the coach’s position.

Yet amid accusations and counter-charges, it has almost been forgotten that Wales still have a championship to defend and a title to win.

Forgotten by all bar the players that is.

In the absence of Thomas and nine members of the Wales team that beat Ireland in Cardiff last March, much will depend on senior players such as Martyn Williams.

The veteran flanker wins his 60th cap tomorrow and while he has certainly been around the block, even he admits the recent turmoil in Welsh rugby has given him sleepless nights.

Nevertheless Williams, insists they will emerge stronger against Ireland from the adversity.

"In Wales you are always under the microscope but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realise the eyes of the rugby world will be on this weekend given the stuff that’s being thrown around right now. But that has galvanised us even more. This week we have just focussed on the game coming up. A win on Sunday would definitely take the heat off everyone."

Williams rates caretaker coach Scott Johnson very highly.

"It is hugely important that Scott stays," said Williams.

Johnson is still unable to confirm where his future lies given the family concerns he has back in his native Australia. His mother, who looks after his two children, remains unwell though he admitted he is "desperate" not to leave Wales despite the turmoil of the last eight days.

"This has been one of those weeks that you will remember for the rest of your life and hopefully one day laugh about," said Johnson.

"But we have a job to do and that’s what we intend to do in Ireland. I don’t know what has been said about these players and I don’t care because this team has nothing to prove to any fair-minded Welshman."