Ruddock salutes All Black coach

Wales boss Mike Ruddock has hailed his All Blacks counterpart Graham Henry as "probably the world's best coach." [more]

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Wales boss Mike Ruddock has hailed his All Blacks counterpart Graham Henry as "probably the world’s best coach."

Ruddock, whose team are bidding to end a 52-year losing sequence against the Tri-Nations champions on Saturday, has also dismissed Henry’s mind-games ahead of the Millennium Stadium showdown.

Henry has repeatedly used the word development to describe a four-Test tour that will also see New Zealand tackle Ireland, England and Scotland in their quest for a first Grand Slam trip since 1978.

There are plenty of rookies among the 35-man squad, including prop John Afoa, his Auckland colleague Isaia Toeava and Taranaki lock Jason Eaton, while two more – prop Neemia Tialata and flanker Chris Masoe – make their Test debuts this weekend.

Ruddock, though, has dismissed the development theory and believes the All Blacks have only one real mission this month – four straight wins.

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"I don’t believe a word of it," said a smiling Ruddock, whose players are chasing a ninth successive victory since New Zealand beat them 26-25 in Cardiff last November.

"I’ve got a huge regard for Graham. He is a brilliant coach, he did a great job when he was in Wales and he’s probably the best coach in the world.

"He’s obviously the master of making sure what he puts out there – what he thinks needs to be discussed – but internally, I am sure he will be sending a different message to the players.

"They will be focused on winning the Grand Slam, that is what they will want to do, and they will want to kick it off with a big win on Saturday."

Saturday’s clash will mark 100 years of Test matches between Wales and New Zealand.

Although Wales won the 1905 fixture 3-0 – New Zealand’s solitary defeat during a marathon 35-match, five-month trip – they have only repeated the feat twice, in 1935 and 1953.

The All Blacks can recall 17 successive victories over Wales, and on eight of those occasions the winning margin was by 25 points or more.

No-one is expecting a landslide New Zealand triumph this weekend, but Wales will have their work cut out, especially given the absence of six British & Irish Lions – Gavin Henson, Tom Shanklin, Dwayne Peel, Gethin Jenkins, Ryan Jones and Martyn Williams – to end that losing sequence.

Ruddock, meanwhile, is well aware of the fixture’s historical significance.

"We’ve got a team photograph of the 1905 side hanging up in our headquarters at the moment as a lucky charm," he said.

"Hopefully, 100 years on, we can reproduce the same courage and skill that team showed in beating the All Blacks. That’s the plan.

"We love the history of Welsh rugby, it is a very proud and famous history.

"When the players come into the camp initially, they always get a book containing the protocols we expect from our players and part of that contains chapters on Welsh history and Welsh rugby history, reminding people how fiercely we have defended our own patch, and that’s what we expect from the team.

"Historically, it is important, but once the players cross the white line on Saturday, history is out of the window. It’s all about the next 80 minutes that count."

Wales have made huge strides since Ruddock succeeded current All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen 18 months ago, winning 10 of their 14 Tests, lifting a first Six Nations title and ending a 27-year wait for Grand Slam glory.

So even though the All Blacks loom large, there is huge expectancy surrounding Wales at present and Ruddock would have it no other way.

"This time last year, looking at the autumn internationals, I remember speaking to the players and saying if we were going to move forward as a group, we needed to develop more leadership in the team and make the team a lot more player-driven.

"We’ve now got some great senior players and captains in each area of the game. I feel our players have grown magnificently over the last year, and I believe we are in a very good position at the moment.

"We have looked at minor adjustments to what we already do, and I guess that is the same with every team. Every team sort of moves and grows a little bit.

"We’ve changed a couple of things, not major changes, but we have moved a few things on," he added.

"Having said that, though, our principles are going to be the same, and we are all confident that as much as teams might work us out, they’ve still got to stop it."

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