Robin Davey says: Edwards staying is such a big boost
12:20pm Tuesday 15th November 2011 in Sport
WHAT a coup for Welsh rugby! After the high of the World Cup and Wales’ best result in the tournament for 24 years, defence chief Shaun Edwards has signed a new four-year contract.
That will take him up to the next World Cup along with head coach and long term rugby partner Warren Gatland, which has to be brilliant news for Wales.
The pair of them, along with the rest of the management team, masterminded Wales’ terrific World Cup campaign which sent the entire nation into raptures as well as winning over many neutrals, not to mention the majority of the New Zealand public.
They were captivated by the way the Welsh team played, their youthful exuberance and the tries they scored. They wanted a Wales-New Zealand final for sure.
After years of humiliation at the hands of the All Blacks it was a huge tribute to Wales that the New Zealand public took them on board in such a way.
It’s true that Wales, the Ireland game apart in that memorable quarter-final, couldn’t quite finish off the top opposition.
They could and should have beaten South Africa and France and had it not been for injuries to key players might well have got the better of Australia as well.
But the stark fact is they lost all three matches and as former South African captain Gary Teichmann said on his recent visit to Newport, they have got to win these big games consistently if they are to go all the way.
That is the next step for Wales, and securing first Gatland and then Edwards on long-term deals has to be a step in the right direction.
They are not on the field, of course, but having the right men steering the ship is undoubtedly a massive help for they will create the right environment for Wales to succeed in their long term aims.
The training camps in Poland clearly proved a master stroke for they ensured Wales were among the fittest, if not the fittest side in the World Cup, while some bold selections and a rapidly maturing side also proved decisive.
The discovery of George North, Toby Faletau, Lloyd Williams and Scott Williams was a bonus while the captaincy and growing maturity of Sam Warburton was another feature, along with the huge progress of players like Rhys Priestland, Leigh Halfpenny, Jon Davies and Luke Charteris.
On top of that, players like Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones and Ryan Jones proved there is plenty of mileage left in the tank while Jamie Roberts and Mike Phillips displayed their true Lions colours.
For these players and more to know that Edwards will join Gatland at the helm for the next four years is a real boost.
You have to give credit to Roger Lewis, the Welsh Rugby Union group chief executive, as well. He secured Gatland on a new long-term deal even before the recent World Cup which had to be a gamble because he would have had egg all over his face had Wales flopped in the tournament.
But they didn’t and that deal now looks pretty good business. Lewis has followed up by nailing Edwards’ colours to the mast which, considering his ties to England, again has to be some achievement.
Lewis visited Edwards at his Wigan base, he remained in contact with him when he escaped the constant intrusion by flying off to New York last week, and he got him to sign on the dotted line.
Coming on top of the huge improvement in the WRU’s financial position in difficult economic times, it’s no wonder Lewis is a satisfied man.
He was rarely far from the scene during the World Cup, spending a lengthy time out in New Zealand, ever willing to give on and off the record briefings to the media and no-one could accuse him of being anything other than hands on.
But the garden isn’t entirely rosy for Wales. Injuries, for example, are taking a heavy toll and the forthcoming game against Australia on December 3 could see a number of enforced changes.
Dragons pair Dan Lydiate and Luke Charteris are both currently sidelined, Lydiate damaging his ankle again after being rushed back in the World Cup and Charteris aggravating a wrist injury, while Jamie Roberts and Huw Bennett both picked up knocks in Heineken Cup ties at the weekend.
Leigh Halfpenny (ankle) and Paul James (broken thumb) are also struggling while French-based trio Mike Phillips, James Hook and Lee Byrne, plus Andy Powell and Craig Mitchell, both playing in England, are all unlikely to be released because the game falls outside the agreed international window.
And the regions are struggling in two ways.
They are hardly seeing their players who are away for long periods preparing for and playing in tournaments. The sheer physicality of the game and resulting injuries is also restricting their game time for their paymasters and the crowds are disappointing to put it mildly.
The Ospreys drew a paltry crowd of 7,732 for their European clash with Biarritz while the Scarlets attracted only 7,860 for their game against Castres, whereas Munster’s ground was packed to its 26,500 capacity for their amazing match against Nortampton, while the Leinster-Munster derby the previous week drew a crowd of 48,365 at the Aviva Stadium.
Yet whereas Wales prospered at the World Cup, Ireland, their victory over Australia apart, disappointed. Something doesn’t add up here and it must be a worry for both the WRU and the regions.