Ruddock refuses to contemplate cautious game

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The Independent Online

For big Mike Ruddock, the big decision today might not have been whether to have the eggs scrambled or poached with his bacon. Would the Wales coach allow his players to watch the action from Lansdowne Road, and risk deflecting their focus away from tomorrow's Six Nations engagement at Murrayfield towards the looming, potentially grand scale affair of a winner-takes-all decider in Cardiff a week today?

For big Mike Ruddock, the big decision today might not have been whether to have the eggs scrambled or poached with his bacon. Would the Wales coach allow his players to watch the action from Lansdowne Road, and risk deflecting their focus away from tomorrow's Six Nations engagement at Murrayfield towards the looming, potentially grand scale affair of a winner-takes-all decider in Cardiff a week today?

Ruddock shrugged his shoulders as he arrived at an Edinburgh hotel last night. "We will be training tomorrow afternoon," he said. "We are looking forward to loosening up and working through a few last minute things."

His players were already loosening up in the team room next door, tearing into a spot of table tennis before stretching out the stiffness from their afternoon flight. For the members of the 40,000 red army already massing in the Scottish capital, the omens were looking good.

Ruddock's men have the legend "Brains" writ large across their jerseys and only a sudden lapse in the grey matter department seems likely to trip them here. There would appear to be little danger of that, too, given the pragmatic character of their coach, who knows what it feels like to have the ground tugged from underneath your feet - his playing career came to an end at the age of 26, when he was working on high as an electricity board linesman and his ladder was dislodged from below.

Admittedly, Wales have won at Murrayfield only once since 1985, and the Edinburgh ground has seen several of their false dawns unceremoniously eclipsed, but even the most die-hard braveheart would be struggling to conjure visions of a repeat of 1975 - when JPR, JJ, Gareth and Co were beaten, thereby restricting the Welsh to just the three Grand Slams in their golden decade.

While Ruddock's team have been drawn in favourable comparison to the stars of the 1970s, there are no Andy Irvines or Jim Renwicks in the Caledonian class of 2005. Scotland might have kicked their losing habit against Italy a fortnight ago, but they did so without conviction.

It was Scotland's first win in the Six Nations since March 2003, and a first win in the championship for Matt Williams. Sadly for Scotland, their coach has no dancing-feet merchant like Shane Williams and no flier like Rhys Williams. Instead, he has called up Rory Lamont for a debut on the right wing, with his elder brother Sean continuing on the left.

Williams spent his entire pre-match press conference yesterday defending the continuing presence at outside-half of Dan Parks and dismissing the relevance of the Scottish Rugby Union's official website seeking votes on the question of whether he should keep his job.

As for Ruddock, he is seeking to maintain the momentum of that sweeping second 40 minutes in Paris - and to move within 80 minutes of a first Welsh Slam in 27 years, naturally.

"As the Irish say, 'let's give it a lash'," he proclaimed. "Let's go out and play and show what we can do. I would love to see the boys really go from the first minute, start the game very positively, and go the whole hog."

Unless they get stuck at Murrayfield, Wales would then be ready for Ireland in Cardiff. A Church has even been booked especially for the occasion - Charlotte, apparently, has agreed to sing the national anthem for her "gorgeous" Gavin and the rest of Mike Ruddock's lovely boys.

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