WALES deserve all the credit going for picking up a second Six Nations Grand Slam in four seasons yesterday. But the English and Irish Rugby Football Unions must be looking at the coaching team that made it possible with a pang of regret.
Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards have restored pride to Welsh rugby; something that had ebbed away in the wake of their shocking World Cup exit at the hands of Fiji last October. Both, though, might have been involved with other teams at the Six Nations had things turned out differently.
Gatland’s three year spell in charge of Ireland was hardly an unqualified success, but there was genuine surprise when he was removed from the post in 2001. He must have felt he had something to prove when he agreed to take charge of Wales following Gareth Jenkins’ exit in the wake of that World Cup misery.
The real story, though, is Edwards. England could have had him in their coaching set-up for this Six Nations. Easily. All they had to do was ask.
But they didn’t really want him, it seems; not enough to make it happen. The best that RFU director of rugby Rob Andrew could offer was a role coaching the England Saxons – effectively the second team. Such was England’s lack of enthusiasm for Edwards, that at one point he was being seriously linked with a move out of rugby union altogether, and back to league to coach Great Britain.
Enter stage Gatland, Edwards’ old boss at Wasps. The New Zealander asked the Wiganer to help him out during the Six Nations. And Edwards’ defensive know-how proved vital in bringing the feelgood factor back to Welsh rugby.
Nowhere was that more evident than yesterday, as Wales faced an awful of French pressure in Cardiff, but managed to hold out. What a difference from that World Cup defeat against Fiji, where Jenkins’ men turned round an early deficit, only to buckle under late pressure and fail to see the game through.
Gatland, Edwards and Wales have had to work hard to get credit for their Six Nations achievements. Even when Wales came back from 13 points down to win 26-19 at Twickenham last month, many commentators chose to focus on England’s failings, rather than accept just how well the visitors played.
And even this week, with Wales on course for that Grand Slam, a lot of media attention – in England at least – centred on Danny Cipriani and Jonny Wilkinson. Is Danny the new Jonny? Is Jonny past it? Was Brian Ashton right to drop Jonny against Ireland? Was he right to drop Danny against Scotland? Will Brian keep his job?
For now, all of that is barely significant in the shadow of Wales’ achievements, other than to say this to those in charge of picking the England coaching staff: Next time you get a chance to sign up Shaun Edwards, show a bit more enthusiasm, eh?