Henry, back in the Principality as coach of the All Blacks, has been in cracked-record mode over the past few days, repeatedly insisting that his primary objective on this trip is to develop players ahead of the next World Cup rather than go hell for leather after a Grand Slam of the four home nations. Ruddock did not quite say "pull the other one, it has bells on" when quizzed on the subject yesterday, but he did not stop far short.
"I don't believe a word of it," he pronounced. "I have great respect for Graham, who is probably the best coach in world rugby, but he is a master of making sure he puts his message out there, of having the particular discussion he wants. Internally, there will be a different message circulating around the New Zealand camp. They want this Grand Slam, definitely."
Should the All Blacks fail to complete a rout of British Isles rugby on this centenary tour - and for one reason or another all their illustrious ancestors bar Graham Mourie's 1978 vintage failed in the quest - it is unlikely to be as a result of defeat at the Millennium Stadium. At least, this is the way the masses see it, given a Welsh injury list that denies them the services of five recent Lions in Tom Shanklin, Gavin Henson, Dwayne Peel, Gethin Jenkins and Ryan Jones. Martyn Williams is on compassionate leave following a family bereavement.
But Ruddock cut a bullish figure yesterday, and did not appear to be spinning a yarn. "Judging by the way we've been training, we won't be affected by those losses," he said. "The All Blacks have been together a fair while now; we gathered together only on Monday. Yes, things have been a little rushed. But we've put in a huge amount of work, building on the foundations we put down during our squad sessions in October, and anyway, we're carrying over a fair bit from last season's Six Nations and our summer tour. The New Zealanders do have an advantage in terms of preparation time for this match, but I believe we've managed our own time in the best possible way."
The England coach, Andy Robinson, has pretty much given up on the chances of Simon Shaw, the Wasps lock, recovering from back problems in time to face the touring Wallabies at Twickenham on Saturday week. A month ago, Shaw was very much the front-runner for one of the second-row positions, with Alex Brown, of Gloucester, virtually certain to win a first cap alongside him. Brown has long since dropped out of the reckoning after damaging a disc in his neck. Now, Shaw is following him out of the squad.
"The England medical team have been in regular contact with Wasps and have decided he should stay with his club for further treatment," Robinson said yesterday. "We will continue to monitor his progress, but it seems unlikely he will be considered." As a result of Shaw's latest misfortune - far from the first in a career blighted by injury and rank bad luck - the Bath pairing of Danny Grewcock and Steve Borthwick are heavy favourites to start against the Australians.
- More about:
- All Blacks