Johnson dismisses Ruddock-less, rudderless talk

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Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Scott Johnson, Wales's caretaker coach, remains adamant that "Ruddockgate" has had no effect on his team.

"I put all that speculation aside," he said, waving off the argument that Mike Ruddock's controversial departure as coach last month might have had something to do with the calamitous displays against Ireland and now Italy. "The players have been buoyant and done everything [the] coaches asked. They haven't been sour. I don't need to motivate them. They are just not playing well."

At least the rest of Wales agreed with him on the last point, although his motivational qualities are most definitely still a matter of contention. If Johnson wasn't intent on returning to Australia before this match it now seems certain he will be. "Nothing's changed on that score. I haven't made my mind up yet," he said, rather unconvincingly.

Wales might well have made its mind up, though, and his case is not likely to helped any by the injury to Dwayne Peel. The scrum-half hobbled off after nine minutes with a jarred shoulder. "Losing the premier half-back in the northern hemisphere was a blow," Johnson said. "Dwayne won't be available to play against France next week. His absence undoubtedly cost us."

His counterpart, Pierre Berbizier, might also have claimed that Ramiro Pez's wayward boot had cost Italy, although the Frenchman was keen only to stress the positives. "This will give a mark of respect to Italian rugby," he said. "We at last have the respect of the other teams, and have showed what we are capable of."

Indeed, their captain, Marco Bortolami, went even further, announcing: "This historic result could have been even better and proves we are improving. We have never been this consistent in the Six Nations. It's a happy changing room."

Of course that was in marked contrast to the gloom over the Welsh camp. Michael Owen, their captain, summed it up. "We're disappointed, gutted to be honest," said the No 8. "The game was there for us to win. I couldn't believe we went in at 15-all, and we simply couldn't get going in the second half."

The obvious question was "why?" and it was perhaps one that the Welsh Rugby Union's directors might wish to pose. Before the game yesterday they staged a board meeting and are known again to have advised their executives to do whatever they could to keep Johnson. But all that might change now.

Johnson is not one to change, however, as he signified. "Listen everyone's a damn expert after the game - I'll do what I've always done and wait to see the tapes," he said. "But whatever, while I'm in charge, my team will try to score tries and I'm not going to be critical of people having a go. We just have to get back on the horse."

Many in Wales are now saying he should indeed get back on it - and head straight out of town.

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