Jonathan Davies: And all because of a quiet word behind Mike's back

If they are guilty of anything it is of not being open enough
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The Independent Online

Alas, enjoy it while it lasts, because it seems as if today's dust-up at Lansdowne Road will amount to nothing more than a hot-blooded, ferocious distraction to "Ruddockgate" and all its ramifications. The sensational headlines have yet to exhaust themselves and this particular farce has plenty of legs yet.

In my own mind, though, I have squared up the infamous "player-power" allegations that many declared toppled the Grand Slam-winning coach. I don't believe, and never have, that the players were instrumental in forcing out Mike, just that their unrest coupled with their oh-so close - some might comment "unhealthy" - relationship with his No 2, Scott Johnson, converged with the contract row between coach and Union to form the perfect storm.

No, the Welsh public should not lay the blame with the players; if they are guilty of anything, it is of being not open enough in their criticisms of what they feel Ruddock did, or didn't, do. My understanding is that it all went pear-shaped because of their attempts to protect Mike's feelings and reputation by having quiet words behind his back. There's no nice way to tell a coach you are not happy with everything, as they have since painfully discovered.

The fact that they have felt under enormous pressure was highlighted by Gareth Thomas's appearance on last Sunday's Welsh rugby programme Scrum V. I sat next to him as he ranted and raved and made no secret of feeling uncomfortable during it all. It must be said here that it was the Welsh camp's idea to have the captain on and, as was self-evident, Gareth was well up for it, but even though the show was pre-recorded and they had more than an inkling as to the line of questioning, in his position I would not have gone on. It simply raised more questions than answers and Wales, as a whole, could have done without it. Unfortunately, his absence will not be so welcome today and for the rest of the Six Nations.

Yes, the injured Thomas will be a huge loss, for his attacking, defending and leadership qualities. But I am not one of those who think this scandal has irreparably wounded Wales's hopes. It's obviously a big game for Johnson, because if Wales get a hammering the supporters will scream, "This wouldn't have happened if Mike was here". But I'm not sure about all that, as it's straightforward what Wales have to do. They will attack Ireland at the set-piece, just as France did in the first half two weekends ago, and they will try to make this dominance tell.

But they will also be aware that the game could be won and lost in the contact area, where they will have to be a lot more aggressive than they were against Scotland. With wind and swirling rain forecast it is just bound to be ugly, even with Gavin Henson on the bench to add glamour.

In my opinion, the famous Osprey is not ready yet to make his international return - rustiness is often magnified 10 times in the Test arena - and there is no doubt he would never have been included if Thomas was fit. Saying that, his prolific kicking game might be useful in the wind.

Whatever, Wales should simply be glad to be worrying about what may occur on the pitch and not off it. A small mercy after a fortnight bereft of them.