Shaun Edwards has revealed the one ‘regret’ over his record-breaking Wales career of four Six Nations’ titles, three Grand Slams and two World Cup semi-finals.
“I would love to have helped give the Welsh people a World Cup final,’’ he told The Rugby Paper. “I got a bit sick of watching other teams contest the final. That’s my one regret.
“In three World Cups we only lost three matches, by a combined total of eight points.
“We failed by one against France in the semi-final in 2011, we failed by four against South Africa in the quarter-final at Twickenham in 2015 and we failed by three in the semi-final a fortnight ago. You can’t get much closer than that.’’
Senior players like Jamie Roberts look back on the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand as ‘the missed chance of a lifetime’. Despite losing Sam Warburton to a red card and Adam Jones to injury, Wales ought to have beaten France in the semi-final at Eden Park only for Thierry Dusautoir’s outsiders to then fall a point short of the All Blacks in the final.
“Momentum is a big thing in Test rugby and I felt that at the time we had real momentum,’’ Edwards said. “I would never insult a team as great as the All Blacks by saying we would have definitely beaten them in the final.’’
Edwards long-term contract as the most experienced member of Fabien Galthie’s new French coaching regime puts him in line for an early return to Cardiff and a collision course with Wales in the Six Nations in three months time.
As a sign of his deep respect for the Welsh game, there will be no high-fiving irrespective of the result.
“I won’t be jumping up and down whatever happens,’’ he says. “If we (France) win, there won’t be much emotion from me out of respect for the Welsh players and the Welsh people. I’ll keep it to the same level, out of respect for France, if Wales win.
“France have improved quite a lot. We were quite fortunate to beat them in the quarter-final.
“When I began working with Wales in 2008, I had no idea how I was going to be received by the Welsh public. They accepted me from the start although I suppose winning the Grand Slam in that first season helped.
“I want to say a big thank you to the Welsh fans. I’d like to have had a pint with every Welsh supporter to express my gratitude. I’ve been lucky to work with so many good people, like Alan Phillips (team manager) – a great character and good rugby man.’’
Edwards, 53, says he was not considered as a candidate to succeed Warren Gatland as head coach but reveals his former employers have suggested he might return after the next World Cup, in France in 2023.
“I was never interviewed for the head coach’s position,’’ he says. “I was never even asked if I was interested but I have since been told I may be welcomed back sometime in the future.”
A double European Cup winner with Wasps, Edwards thinks he may have been pigeon-holed as a defence coach, a speciality masking other achievements like winning the European Cup twice with Wasps.
“No team in Wales has won that trophy,’’ he says. “Maybe a lot of people had forgotten that. Maybe they were unaware of it. France offered me the security of a four-and-a-half year contract. That was a big factor.
“I’d like to think I have 15 years’ coaching left. Martyn Phillips (WRU chief executive) said to me: ‘Who knows, you might come back one day’.”
Edwards applauds Sam Warburton’s addition to the specialist coaching team assembled under Gatland’s successor, Wayne Pivac. “The breakdown is such a crucial area of the game,’’ Edwards says. “It is repeated, on average, over 200 times in every match so having a master of the subject like Sam makes sense.’’
As he settles into his new job across the Channel, Wales’ favourite English- man has no hesitation identifying the favourite match of his 12-season reign – the Millennium Stadium, March 2013 when an unbeaten England team came to win the Grand Slam only to end up losing the Slam and surrendering the Six Nations title by a record margin: 30-3.
“That match will live in my memory for ever,’’ says Edwards. “I shall take that with me to my grave.’’
He is also understandably proud of records set under his supervision, like the two tries Wales conceded during the course of winning the 2012 Grand Slam, a feat which will probably stand forever.