One morning in early August last year, hot on the heels of Wales confirming Wayne Pivac as their head coach post-Japan, Shaun Edwards addressed the subject of his next move.
An announcement was imminent. He didn’t say where he would be going but he did say something which in view of more recent events sounds even more significant now than it did then.
“I’m a great believer in something Sir Alex Ferguson said about only going where someone really, really wants you,’’ he told me. “It’s a question of where you want your future to be.’’
Within a few days, all had been revealed. After eleven years with Wales, Edwards would be going home to Wigan as head coach of the Warriors, or so it appeared.
“I’ve got a three or a four-year deal with Wigan but I’d have been guaranteed employment for the next ten to 15 years in Union. In the long term I could be at a financial risk. I’ve taken a risk to come here but the reason I’ve done that is to challenge for trophies with Wigan.’’
So that was that. Edwards’ reference to Sir Alex’s mantra about only going where he was really, really wanted suggested a love from his hometown greater than that from the Wales management taking charge at the end of the World Cup.
The defence coach immersed himself in another Grand Slam campaign and its deliverance proved a game-changer in more than one way. Edwards let it be known that while he had agreed to join Wigan, they hadn’t offered him a contract.
“The only team I’m not going to go to is Wales because the new coach is going in a different direction,’’ he said. “He wants to do something different.’’
By then Edwards had also been offered the opportunity to do something different, to rejoin Wasps under the management team headed by Dai Young. After two meetings with the club owner, Derek Richardson, Wasps believed they had got their man.
The ecstatic reaction in Wales to their team’s clean sweep of the Six Nations changed all that. The WRU heard the clamour and duly offered Edwards a new deal to carry on and work in tandem with Pivac’s team recently reinforced by the Scarlets’ defence coach Byron Hayward.
Wasps feared the worst until they heard that negotiations between Edwards and Wales had stalled over a clause in a four-year contract which allowed either party to opt out after two years, a standard agreement which applied to everyone else.
Having reminded Edwards that their offer was still on the table, Wasps sensed they had lost their man and presumed he had decided to stay with Wales. It rumbled on, day after day, until even Warren Gatland began to lose patience.
Within a day or two of the head coach saying he was ‘sick of reading about it in the newspapers every day’ and calling for a decision, Edwards made one. Wales had gone the way of Wigan and Wasps which left France the last man standing, not that the man himself was talking about that prospect.
Others did, most notably the French Federation president Bernard Laporte, to the effect that negotiations had been going on for some time. Whether it’s a case of the grass being greener or change being as good a rest is immaterial. Edwards owes Wales nothing.
His will be the toughest of acts to follow and all Welsh fans will wish him well. If his move to French headquarters at Marcoussis outside Paris has been a roundabout, then something else that Edwards said way back last summer still rings true.
“I don’t like breaking contracts if I can help it,’’ he said then. “I’m not one for jumping around too much. I was at Wigan for 14 years. I did ten years at Wasps and I’ve been accepted with open arms in Wales since I started on a part-time basis in 2008. I’m immensely proud of being accepted as one of their own.’’
He can count on that, no matter what fate has in store in the Orient come September.
PETER JACKSON / Photo: Getty Images
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