Ruddock will relish new challenge
May 1, 2007
"It was more or less inevitable that it would not be long before Mike Ruddock returned to rugby union coaching at a fairly high level." Huw Richards reports
It was more or less inevitable - his employer acknowledged as much - that it would not be long before Mike Ruddock returned to rugby union coaching at a fairly high level.
The need for a sabbatical doing something different in the wake of his bizarre departure from the Wales job was clear enough, but nobody thought it would be for good.
We should also not be too surprised that he has come back in England. I recall interviewing him in his office at Newport not long before he was appointed to the Wales job. He said then that one of his remaining ambitions was to work in the Premiership, which he described as a 'terrific competition'.
This, of course, is one of things that marked him out as a better bet for Wales at the time than Gareth Jenkins. While Jenkins had done a terrific job with Llanelli, he had never strayed far or long from home.
Ruddock, by contrast, had struck out to build his career and range of experience with Bective Rangers and Leinster. The desire to seek fresh challenges and new environments clearly still burns brightly.
He will have to cope with an exacting boss. Scarcely had the cheeting died down from Worcester's escape from relegation when owner Cecil Duckworth had decided that John Brain's feat in engineering a remarkable comeback from the apparent dead was outweighed by the fact that Worcester had got into such trouble in the first place, and handing him his P45.
Ruddock's record suggests strongly that Worcester will do better next year.
The best known part of his CV is his time with Wales. Then he won six out of seven Six Nations matches, including a Grand Slam - a success rate of nearly 86 per cent compared to the 30 per cent, with nine wins out of 33, managed by a combination of Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Gareth Roberts since the Five nations became Six.
Anyone, of course, can get lucky as a coach. Some in Wales have argued that Ruddock was simply the inheritor of Henry and Hansen's building work.
Such arguments, though, ignore the consistency of Ruddock's achievements elsewhere. At Bective, Swansea, Leinster, Ebbw Vale, Wales A and Dragons he achieved improvements through a simple, highly effective formula - get your forwards organised and doing the basics right, and allow your creative players in the backs to express themselves.
Add in the success of a similar formula with Wales and he has brought it off seven times - rather too often for fortune or coincidence to be the explanation.
The challenge at Worcester may be to inject that element of creativity and imagination. They've generally coped pretty well up front during their time in the Premiership, but have lacked the pace and imagination needed to unlock the best defences.
Success could have implications beyond the Midlands. Not in terms of Wales - where Phil Davies looks like the natural successor should Jenkins fall under an Owens lorry or World Cup catastrophe - but the 2009 Lions to South Africa.
The identikit for a Lions chief coach demands a rare combination of attributes - proven ability to coach at the highest level, but no current entanglement with any national squad.
On the reasonably assumption that neither Ian McGeechan nor Sir Clive Woodward would want to do it again Ruddock, whose international successes are more recent that either's, is currently far the best qualified candidate.
Any of the four current national team coaches might come into the frame, but would have in the next 12 months to both achieve tangible World Cup and/or Six Nations success then decide more or less immediately that they were prepared to give the job up.
Until today the objection to Ruddock, with all due respect to his charges at Mumbles, was that he was no longer engaged in serious rugby. Now he is - excellent news for Worcester, but potentially even better for those who'd like to see the Lions winning again.