Friday 24 November 2017

Edwards happy to be part of risky Welsh business

The beauty of sport is its utter unpredictability.

When Britain's Super League was in its pomp, those bombastic PA announcers -- now depressingly de riguer at every sporting event -- wallowed in the sound of their own voices.

One time at the Valley, Wigan legend Shaun Edwards was limbering up on the bench waiting to come on and stifle a nascent comeback from a chirpy London Broncos side.

As Edwards entered the fray with less than a half-hour to play, the away supporters' roars of encouragement were derided by the man with the mic: "He hasn't done anything yet."

Ninety seconds later, Edwards, in that irrepressible manner unique to instinctive team players, eyed space nobody else had seen, essayed the means of negotiating a chance nobody else had dared conjure and then made the supporting run to seal the deal.


The subsequent try killed London's comeback and silenced the man with the mic.

If any rugby union team typifies Edwards' high-tempo, risk or reward, tight-rope walking philosophy, then it is this afternoon's Welsh visitors to Croke Park.

They have coughed up a cumulative 51-12 half-time deficit in their first three RBS Six Nations championships already this campaign. They have one victory and two losses to their name thus far; have no chance of any silverware and risk accompanies every selection and tactic that Welsh No 2 Edwards and head coach Warren Gatland deploy.

"At the elite level in sport, all that matters is whether you win or lose," says Edwards, the former Irish international rugby league player, through whom Irish blood courses alongside his Lancastrian bones.

"Unfortunately we've been on the wrong end of the score in some unbelievably entertaining games. But we're in the winning business, and we felt we could have won both of the games we lost if we'd been a bit more accurate."

Ironically, despite failing to haul back seemingly irretrievable deficits against England, when tossing away 17 points after Alan Wyn Jones' vapid trip, and latterly France, they won the game they most looked like losing, namely that breath-defying win against Scotland, when they came back from 21-6 down to storm home in the final 15 minutes.

"That was topsy turvy," smiles Edwards. "It was unbelievably entertaining, but remember the first half, we defended pretty poorly. The second-half was much tighter and our offence was sensational.

"If we can put it together for 80 minutes, we can be a threat to anybody. But we haven't done that yet this season. When we have turned it on, we've been scintillating."

That's the warning for Ireland, but with Wales, you guess the self-destruct button is only a second away; witness the amount of intercepts that have undermined them this term, two in one game against France.

"(Francois) Trinh-Duc is particularly good at intercepts," says Edwards, "and he took advantage of that Shane Williams flip on the inside. The other one was pretty poor from James Hook.

"A lot of teams have a guy who hits the line, to block the pass off or get the intercept. Rob Howley has paid a lot of attention on that area and unfortunately James just lost his concentration at the crucial moment."

Yet the beauty of Welsh rugby is its inability to cow, to retreat into a tactical strait-jacket. Hook will persist with his enterprising approach, replete with the comprehensive backing of coaching staff.

"I just want to play rugby and that involves throwing the ball around," Hook says.


"That was poor execution from myself and I apologised to Warren and the team at half-time. When you throw the pass, you need the vision to see if the opposition are blitzing.

"Unfortunately for myself and the team they caught me out. But it won't ever change me from trying out new things, as I feel it's one of the strengths in my game. Things will even themselves out in the future.

"The way we play is high risk and high reward. In the second half a lot of those passes came off for us and got us back into the game. We wanted to keep attacking and the one pleasing aspect was that we didn't concede a try in the second half.

"If there is anything to build on, then it would be that. We have to keep digging in and battling on. If we can produce that second-half performance for the full 80 minutes, we're not that far away and someone will take a hiding."

Defensively, Ireland had been similarly hamstrung in this area during the Paris defeat, with Brian O'Driscoll repeatedly caught out in the 'shooter' role, but Wales' defence coach admits that even defence has its high-risk element.

"With every defence, particularly if you take risks, there's a chance it may not come off. Wales play a high-risk defence and a high-risk attack. When it comes off, it looks fantastic, when it doesn't, you get punished.

"Against Scotland, the defence was poor, but the rest of the time we've defended okay. Probably against England in that sin-binning, we should have kept them out a bit better.

"Those 10 minutes, I was pretty disappointed. To allow one try in is acceptable. Ireland found out that in Paris and lost the game. We conceded 17 (points) and that's far too much."

France's Freddy Michalak, having faced both teams in successive rounds, believes that the Welsh are on the verge of ticking for the full 80 minutes.

'"If they can play for 80 minutes like that, they can be the best -- they can beat Ireland. They have the players to win in Dublin. In the second half against us they were amazing and played some great rugby, but they left it too late."

Edwards' respect for the Irish is manifest, particularly after the Lions tour.

"What I noticed was that they were the most meticulous of all in terms of match preparation and analysis, which made my job much easier."

And while he will join the acclamation for Brian O'Driscoll, he spotted a future Irish captain last summer in Jamie Heaslip.

"I definitely saw leadership tendencies in that guy.

"He was outstanding. In the first test, he did poorly during the week and probably wasn't at his best. But by the third test, he was world-class.

"You saw the real Heaslip in that game. Great guy to get on with, good fun off the pitch. But he really has that competitive edge and superb leadership qualities."

Irish Independent

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