Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards make unbeatable team
Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards have revived Welsh rugby and there could be even more on the way
In the mess that Rob Andrew made of his review of England’s performance at the World Cup, nothing compares with the fact that he never spoke with Shaun Edwards. Apart from having enjoyed a blessed career in rugby league, an extraordinarily successful six years coaching union at Wasps and being arguably the most charismatic rugby man in Europe, Edwards didn’t have much going for him. How Andrew avoided speaking with him is the world’s ninth mystery.
Perhaps he was afraid he would fall under Edwards’s spell. Almost everyone else has. It wasn’t a surprise to hear the Welsh wing Shane Williams refer to Edwards in almost mystical terms after yesterday’s Grand Slam victory over the French. Could he believe that in five games they had conceded just two tries?
“It’s probably down to the fact that everyone is scared senseless of Shaun.” He spoke only half in earnest.
They tell a story in Wales that after Lesley Vainikolo had made a spectacular leap to catch the ball over Mark Jones’s head and set up Toby Flood’s try at Twickenham, Edwards asked Jones if he had been dazed by the collision. The right-wing replied that he had not been and Edwards then asked why he didn’t get up immediately and get himself back into the defensive line.
When it comes to players not being where they should be in defence, Edwards is unforgiving. “At Wigan, where I played, it was permissible not to be in the line if you had a serious head injury or a broken leg. Otherwise you had to be there,” he said. Jones was dropped after that England game, subsequently returned to the team a stronger character and yesterday he defended like a lion.
After a match knocking over
one Frenchman after another, he got a late counter-attacking chance
deep inside his own half and set off on a wondrous run, dodging one blue shirt after another until the line was within sight. He was hauled down five yards short, a cruel end to an exploit that deserved the
But it was a victory built on the strength of Wales’s defence and it was appropriate that their two tries were created from the aggression, speed and organisation of their defence. Twice the pressure was too much for the French attack, mistakes were made and the tries from Shane Williams and then Martyn Williams followed.
Edwards was asked what he had done to transform this Wales side. “People are trying to give me credit in this Six Nations but I haven’t made one tackle in this year’s Six Nations Championship. I was sat on the sideline,” he said.
But there is no doubt that he inspired others to make those tackles and it is undeniable that he and Gatland have done much to transform an underachieving team into Grand Slam winners. Both men were insistent that the credit must go to the Welsh players.
It has been a bewildering three-month journey. At the beginning, when Gatland was trying to lure Edwards into the Welsh camp and England were making a derisory counter-offer, the Wasps head coach wondered about the implications for him if the Welsh team simply wasn’t up to it. Gatland and Edwards know national team coaches can only work with the material they have.