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'A big mistake': Ruddock wades into row over bombshell WRU report

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images)

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Grand Slam-winning coach Mike Ruddock has explained why it would be a big mistake if the WRU followed through on a recommendation to cut the number of professional teams in Wales from four to three for the 2023/24 season. The findings of the Oakwell Sports Advisory report were leaked to the media in midweek and a bombshell suggestion was the culling of a region, with Ospreys and the Dragons allegedly at the head of the queue for the chop.  


Ruddock, the 2005 Six Nations title winner with Wales, joined the Ospreys in the winter of 2019, heading up the recruitment search that resulted in the appointment of Toby Booth as head coach. He now works as the development director at the club and he fears it would be a retrograde step for rugby in Wales if a team was canned. 

Having also spent a large amount of time coaching in Ireland, Ruddock recalled on Saturday the IRFU’s aborted plan in 2003 to cut Connacht and go with just three provinces. That resulted in people taking to the streets in protest. Thirteen years later, Connacht were crowned PRO12 champions and they have also supplied a number of star players to the Ireland team. 

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Ruddock insists it is a numbers game in Wales the same as it is in Ireland and that going down to three regional teams would be a terrible error. Speaking on Dublin’s Talking Sport on Sunshine 106.9, he told Reggie Corrigan, the ex-Ireland and Leinster prop, his thoughts on the Oakwell Sports Advisory report, explaining that the idea of cutting a team was just one of a half-dozen options. 

“It is one of six recommendations that I am aware of that have been put forward in a report commissioned by the professional game board. The recommendation to get rid of a region was just one of six possible recommendations or options available. Reg, you and I remember when we were working in Ireland and the IRFU thought about getting rid of Connacht and the whole province took to the streets and marched to Lansdowne Road and made it very clear that was not a good idea.


“Connacht, under Pat Lam, went on to win the URC and look at all the different players they have produced for Irish rugby and the exiles they have brought in like Mack Hansen. It is still a numbers game, so getting rid of one of our regions would be a big mistake. I am trying to push the idea through the Welsh channels that it is a numbers game and the Irish model has proved that.


“Back in 1997 we had lost a lot of players to England, Conor O’Shea, Malcolm O’Kelly, Eric Miller, guys like that had gone to England and we had started to get some of those guys back, started to get our academies up and running in Ireland… and it was a numbers game off the field as well. 

“Those are the lessons we are trying to convey. We have got to keep numbers in Wales, we have got to be honest with ourselves, which we are doing, and what we have got to do is look closely at these recommendations, come out of it the other side in a stronger way. I personally think that losing a region and losing numbers would be the wrong way to go.”


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