Tuesday 17 October 2017

Edwards hopes 'big game mentality' is enough for Wales

Andrew Baldock

SHAUN Edwards hopes that Wales' recent experience of big occasions can help them in what he admits is "a huge game" against RBS 6 Nations title rivals England next Saturday.

Grand Slam-chasing England have not completed a tournament clean sweep since 2003, while they suffered final-hurdle falls in 2000, 2001 and 2011 and Wales ended the Five Nations era by thwarting them 32-31 at Wembley 14 years ago.

 

Wales, in contrast, have achieved three Six Nations Grand Slams - 2005, 2008 and 2012 - with current squad members Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones and Ryan Jones being part of all three.

 

The reigning champions could possibly have 12 players in their starting line-up against England who featured when Wales clinched last season's Grand Slam by beating France, and nine who started the 2011 World Cup semi-final loss to Les Bleus in Auckland.

 

"I am pleased that we've had the experience of being in big games before," Wales assistant coach and defence specialist Edwards said.

 

"Most of our team has played in a Grand Slam game, some in two, some in three.

 

"They've also played in a World Cup semi-final, and I am just really hoping that experience will help us on Saturday. It is a huge game.

 

"The fact that England beat the All Blacks in such a resounding way (in November) and scored all those points against them, I think gave a lot of kudos to the Six Nations.

 

"There is a lot of expectation and a lot of pressure on them. England have not won a Grand Slam for 10 years, which is a long time, but we are concentrating on ourselves."

 

Wales boss Rob Howley is not due to announce his starting line-up until Thursday, but current skipper Ryan Jones arrived home from Edinburgh yesterday afternoon with his right arm in a sling and he must be considered a major doubt.

 

If Jones does not make it, then last season's Grand Slam captain Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric could realistically expect to pack down alongside number eight Toby Faletau in the back row.

 

Another option, though, would be to keep Warburton in the openside role that saw him destroy Scotland at the breakdown two days ago and play Andrew Coombs at blindside.

 

Although Coombs made three successful Six Nations starts at lock this season, he has played most of his rugby for Newport Gwent Dragons in the number six shirt.

 

Prop Jenkins, meanwhile, is back in training after missing the Scotland trip due to a calf muscle injury and he will continue to be assessed.

 

One of England's biggest challenges next weekend promises to be unlocking a Wales defence that has not conceded a try in 275 minutes of Six Nations action - almost three-and-a-half games.

 

Scotland went the same way as France and Italy in suffering shut-outs, but England have scored at least one try against Wales in 11 of the countries' 13 previous Six Nations meetings.

 

"The lads are very determined to concede the least tries in the competition. We've had a history of doing that in the last few years," Edwards added.

 

"We conceded the least tries last year and hopefully we are going to concede the least tries this year. We are up against one of the biggest challenges, offensively, in England."

 

And for Edwards, next Saturday will see him in direct coaching opposition with England's defence guru Andy Farrell, his former Wigan and Great Britain rugby league team-mate.

 

Even though they are in opposite camps on different sides of the Severn Bridge, Edwards' respect for his former colleague is undiminished.

 

"As a player, when Faz first came into the Wigan team he was probably the most mature 17-year-old I'd ever come across. He was always destined for greatness as a player," Edwards said.

 

"He has always had great knowledge of the game.

 

"The first time he played at Wembley, he was 17, and he was rooming with the (Wigan) captain Dean Bell, who was obviously to look after Andy.

 

"The morning of the game, Dean was up and being sick and nervous, and Faz is saying to him 'don't worry Dean, we will batter these, mate'.

 

"He went on to achieve greatness as a player. He won the Golden Boot as best rugby league player in the world, and I always knew he would go on to be an outstanding coach in league or union."

 

Wales could find themselves punished by Farrell's son Owen - provided he has recovered from injury and is recalled at fly-half - unless they are more disciplined than against Scotland.

 

"We rightly got pinged for some silly penalties. I have looked at every one of them again, and and they were all penalties," Edwards added.

 

"If people keep infringing, they get penalised, simple as that.

 

"We have been averaging eight to 10 penalties against but we went over that on Saturday, and it is something that Rob (Howley) will be speaking very vigorously about this week, the need to get back to below 10, which is the bedrock of our recent history."

Online Editors

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