Shaun Edwards is irreplaceable in the Wales set-up after another master class from the defence guru put Warren Gatland’s side on the brink of a Six Nations Grand Slam.
That is the verdict of the country’s legendary former flanker Martyn Williams who worked with Edwards at international level after coming out of Test retirement.
Edwards has worked alongside Gatland with Wales since 2008 to huge success. On Saturday, an 18-11 victory over Scotland saw the New Zealander’s team make more than 140 second-half tackles as they repelled the hosts at BT Murrayfield. Now only Ireland stand in their way of a clean sweep. “Shaun has been unbelievably loyal to Warren. There is total respect there and the combination works,” said Williams, who won 100 Welsh caps and four with the British & Irish Lions.
“I’m sure they’ve had their disagreements over the years and no relationship is healthy unless you fall out every now and again. They’re both winners and know how to get the best out of each other. The players who have worked under Andy Farrell with England and the Lions only have good things to say and his record with Ireland is outstanding.
“Shaun is certainly the best defence coach I’ve worked with.
“He’s going to be a huge loss to Wales and that’s not rocket science. Since Gats has been in charge Wales’ defence has been legendary. “That’s why they’ve won the Championships they have and have had the success they’ve had. His are big boots to fill. He’s probably the one guy you don’t want to be following. Whichever team he goes to – either in league or union – you can guarantee they’ll have one of the best defences about.”
Gatland will leave the Wales set-up after this year’s World Cup and his assistants Edwards, Rob Howley and Robin McBryde will all do likewise. If anyone needed a reminder of Edwards’ importance to Wales, the Scotland game was a timely reminder.
In Edinburgh Wales barely had the ball in the second half, but they tackled themselves silly with Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric and Alun Wyn Jones all making more than 20 successful attempts.
“When I sat down with Warren to come out of retirement in 2008, being able to work alongside Shaun was a big part of it,” added Williams, who helped Wales to Grand Slam glory that year in the first campaign under Gatland. “Shaun was a real rocket for the group we had then. We’d never had that sort of defence coach before.
“Before he came in we’d been a team a little bit like Newcastle under Kevin Keegan where it was ‘If you score three, we’ll score four’. That’s how we won the 2005 Grand Slam in some ways.
“Shaun came in and adopted the blitz defence and the intensity and detail he brought was unbelievable. You can’t just put his success down to one thing. It’s lots of things. There is definitely a fear factor there. It doesn’t matter who you are, how many caps you’ve had, or how long you’ve been around, you don’t want to be the one singled out for not doing your job.
“I remember our first game under Warren. We beat England at Twickenham for the first time in 20 years and everyone in Wales — including the players – patted themselves on the back.
“I’d come out of retirement and we all thought everything was rosy. I remember on the Monday after he absolutely ripped me to shreds for not doing my job. I have to be honest and say I didn’t take it too well. I was precious and took it the wrong way, but he was correct. It was a real wakeup call that Shaun doesn’t take any prisoners.”
Wales will hope another defensive shutout will help them down Ireland on Saturday and seal their first Grand Slam since 2012.
It would also make Gatland the only Six Nations coach to win three Slams.
Edwards has agreed to return to rugby league giants Wigan – where he won 25 major trophies as a player – after leaving Wales, but he has also been linked with English union side Wasps.
Whatever he does next, he will want to depart his time with Wales on a high.
“People say defence is simple and it is so long as it’s well coached and everyone is doing their job.” Williams added. “Shaun has that magic touch and he’s proven over the last decade and more he can get things to work. He’s one of those coaches I wish I’d met when I was 22 instead of 32.
“I know I’d have been a much better player if that had been the case.”