Jonathan Davies: Now Ruddock has a team to mix it with the big boys

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The Independent Online

Last night in Cardiff I witnessed one of the best international matches I have ever seen. Everyone likes to say "Wales will be back". After seeing us shaded by South Africa a fortnight ago, and now this against the All Blacks, I'm saying: "Wales are back".

Last night in Cardiff I witnessed one of the best international matches I have ever seen. Everyone likes to say "Wales will be back". After seeing us shaded by South Africa a fortnight ago, and now this against the All Blacks, I'm saying: "Wales are back".

I believe it is hugely significant that, in Mike Ruddock, we now have a specialist forwards coach in the leading role. Even though all the talk surrounded Graham Henry and Steve Hansen, I cannot help but wonder what heights we might be hitting now if Wales had concentrated a bit more on the pack during the spells those two had in charge of our national side.

Ruddock picks specialist props in their positions, and only rotates them when it is necessary instead of applying some pre-set formula as Hansen used to.

We scored a try from a rolling maul, which is something of a novelty. We competed in the tackle area, in the scrum and the line-out, and there was an element of crossing involved in New Zealand's first try.

Wales got penalised for crossing against South Africa, and lost by two points. Here, we lost by a point. It is marvellous to be talking about fine-tuning instead of the yawning gaps of old.

A lot of the credit for this performance should also go to Andrew Hore (a New Zealander, as it happens), the fitness adviser to the Wales team, and his counterparts within the regional squads.

In the heat of the battle, Wales's skipper, Gareth Thomas, said he lost track of the clock at the end, and I would have thought someone should have known about the timing, but I don't want to make much of that.

There was so much pace to the game, from both sides, and I thought Colin Charvis was absolutely phenomenal. He got my vote as man of the match for the television coverage, although it was the hardest decision I have had to make. It could have been Brent Cockbain in the Wales second row, or perhaps New Zealand's captain, Richie McCaw.

Overall the Welsh forwards have gone up four or five notches since Ruddock took over. I saw him after the match and he was terribly disappointed to lose - as all his players were - but he must know they are on the way up, and can take on England in the opening Six Nations match in the new year with renewed confidence.

New Zealand were a little bit sharper on the counter-attack. And at the risk of being simplistic about it, the only difference between the sides was Joe Rokocoko. He was absolutely clinical in everything he did - superb in defence and, for his second try, well, what a finish. I cannot believe he is still only 21 years old.

I heard Wayne Smith, the All Blacks' backs coach, say afterwards that Rokocoko was still learning to get in the proper frame of mind when it comes to preparing for big matches. Heaven help the rest of the world when he gets his head right.

In a strange way, then, the roles have been reversed. Wales's pack gave New Zealand a good game, and it was their back three that got the All Blacks out of trouble. Ultimately, of course, there is still no "W" in the Wales results column.

I was on the end of some hammerings from the All Blacks in my time. The Welsh Rugby Union, damningly in some critics' eyes, had no truck with me when I called for root-and-branch change after we lost both Tests on our 1988 tour by big scores. There were many, many reasons for the disparity between the countries.

Finally, now, I can see definite signs that we are doing things properly. No win to celebrate, but a fantastic performance that everybody can be proud of. I know I am.

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