Wales ended years of hurt when Mike Ruddock led them to the 2005 Grand Slam to usher in a new era for Welsh rugby.
But less than a year later the architect of that triumph was gone. Questions swirled over Ruddock’s departure. He had cited family reasons in an official statement, but many weren’t swallowing it.
"Something has happened behind the scenes," then England coach Clive Woodward told BBC Wales. "But Mike is such a proud man there's no way he's going to stand up and say this and that, because he won't want to let the team down. I personally think that one or two members of his team have actually let him down."
The focus of what became known as "Ruddockgate" centred on then Welsh captain Gareth Thomas, who was accused of leading a player revolt against the coach, something he strenuously denied in his autobiography Alfie, which was serialized at Wales Online:
I wanted him to say to us, ‘We have reached this level. Come with me to an even higher place.’
And the change in direction, the new ideas, the move to the next echelon, had to be presided over by him.
As head coach, it had to be his master plan. For me, the time had come for Mike to truly take up the reins and lead us to even greater conquests and eventually to a position from which we could go to the 2007 World Cup as contenders to win it.
Instead, Ruddock left midway through the 2006 Six Nations, and the media’s gaze fell on Thomas as the cause of his departure.
Things culminated in an episode of the BBC programme Scrum V during which former Welsh international and commentator Eddie Butler raised the issue of player power with Thomas and his role in Ruddock’s exit, after it emerged Thomas had led a group of senior players in a meeting with Welsh Rugby Union boss Steve Lewis to air concerns about Ruddock’s style of management.
Their heated argument took another twist when, watching the episode back at home, Thomas suffered what was later diagnosed as a severe migraine and paralysis of his left side.
Paul Rees of The Guardian wrote:
Thomas was at home with his wife, Jemma, his parents and other members of his family when the broadcast went out and, in the middle of watching his interview, he complained of numbness in his left side and blurred vision. "I had never experienced anything like it," he said yesterday. "I thought I was going to die and I was looking around the room as I slid off my chair fearing that I was seeing my family for the last time."
But Rees also hinted Thomas' appearance on the show had done little to quell the speculation that player power had been at the heart of the Ruddock issue:
If Thomas intended to prove that the players were not the catalysts behind Ruddock's departure, the circumstances of which will be investigated tonight by the WRU's 17-strong board of directors, he succeeded only in fuelling speculation. He admitted the squad thought that Ruddock did not take enough responsibility, that the coach's name had come up during discussions with Lewis, only for the chief executive to refuse to discuss their concerns, and that the players had threatened not to take the field against Scotland earlier this month in a dispute with Lewis over insurance.