Howley praised for Warburton gamble
SHAUN Edwards has hailed Rob Howley’s mental toughness and saluted his decision to recall openside flanker Sam Warburton to Wales’ starting XV as a “brilliant selection”.
Caretaker head coach Howley came in for a barrage of criticism as Wales went on an eight-match losing streak.
But the critics have been silenced by three successive away Six Nations wins which have seen Wales bounce back impressively after an opening campaign defeat to Ireland in Cardiff. And Saturday’s showdown with England at the Millennium Stadium gives last season’s champions a great chance of retaining their title.
There is so much at stake in Wales’ clash this weekend, which not only sees the home side looking to be crowned tournament champions but also seeking to deprive England of their first Grand Slam since 2003.
Wales defence guru Edwards backed his boss to the hilt, reacting angrily to a suggestion there may have been a doubt about Howley’s ability as a coach.
Referring to Wales’ 3-0 Test series defeat Down Under to the Wallabies last summer, when all three games were lost narrowly, he told a reporter: “You said there were question marks but he oversaw the best overseas tour Wales have ever had.
“We went to Australia and lost by very small margins. But as I said a few weeks ago, I remember Wales going to Australia a few years ago and losing 31-0 not long before I started here.”
And, in the rugby league legend’s opinion, there were mitigating factors behind Wales’ autumn series whitewash when they were down-ed by Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia.
“I thought Rob did a strong job in the autumn,” Edwards said. “We were battered by injuries, absolutely annihilated by injuries, both in the games and before the competition even started.
“We’ve got something like our best team back and hey presto, when you’ve got your best players fit and back playing.”
Howley’s decision to bring back last season’s Grand Slam captain Warburton into the starting line-up after he came on as a replacement in last month’s 26-9 win over Italy in Rome proved to be right on the money.
Wales’ 2011 World Cup captain, who missed the win over France in Paris with a stinger injury, was the man of the match in Saturday’s 28-18 victory over Scotland in Edinburgh.
“I thought he showed a lot of courage to pick Sam at the weekend,” Edwards said.
“I think he was aware that if it didn’t go right... but let’s be honest, it was a brilliant selection.
“It showed a man of great foresight and courage and I think he has just done a brilliant job.”
He added: “You have to be resilient. It was heartbreaking to lose those games in Australia because it would have been the first time Wales have ever won overseas in the professional era.
“It was absolutely heartbreaking to lose those games but we’ve stuck at it and we are resilient and you have to do that in life and in sport and Rob is a very resilient person.”