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Exclusive: Shaun Edwards rules himself out of Lions tour of South Africa

France defence coach Shaun Edwards was part of Ian McGeechan's staff in 2009

Shaun Edwards has declared himself a non-starter for the Lions, thereby eliminating any chance of a Test reunion with Warren Gatland.

After laying the foundations for a hat-trick of Grand Slams during his 12 years with Wales, the sport’s most decorated defence coach counts himself out of the equation for next year’s three-Test series against the World Cup holders in South Africa.

“My priority is France – 100 per cent,” Edwards tells The Rugby Paper in response to speculation over a leading role in Gatland’s chain of coaching command. “Anyone would be proud to go on a Lions tour but I have to concentrate on my main job.

“The French Federation have shown a lot of faith in me. They gave me a four-and-a-half year deal. When I signed my contract, I pretty much knew that the Lions would be off the radar.

“I know from personal experience that the Lions has the highest profile of all. Not only do you have the support of three million people in Wales, you have the whole backing of England, Ireland and Scotland as well.

“Being in France makes it different. They probably don’t understand how prestigious it is to be selected for the Lions but that’s beside the point. I am not expecting a phone call.’’

Andy Farrell, Edwards’ successor as defence coach for the drawn series in New Zealand three years ago, has had a call but his availability has yet to be confirmed. Ireland may want their head coach to concentrate on the national cause and take charge of next summer’s trip to the South Pacific.

While Gatland has not called Edwards, his talks with Leinster head coach Stuart Lancaster point to him joining the Lions as due recognition of his outstanding work with Europe’s No. 1 team.

 Lancaster has been out of Test rugby since resigning after England’s misfortune in failing to qualify for the finals of their World Cup in 2015.

Since going their separate ways after the near-miss at last year’s tournament in Japan, Gatland has presided over the Chiefs losing eight in a row in New Zealand. Edwards, defence coach when the Lions last toured South Africa in 2009, has helped put France in with a shot at winning the Six Nations title, against Ireland in Paris on October 31.

Shaun Edwards
Top priority: France defence coach Shaun Edwards has been working to build relationship with Top 14 clubs. Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

He is to work with the France under-20 squad and join Toulouse at a pre-season training camp. That could turn out to be a significant move given the French club’s home Champions’ Cup quarter-final against Ulster on September 20.

“I’m trying to get a good relationship with all the clubs in France,’’ says Edwards. “I coach in French and I do my presentations in French. Don’t get me wrong, it does take me a long time to prepare them.

“Listening is the most difficult thing because accents in France differ as they do in Wales and England. My good friend William Servat (France forwards’ coach under Fabien Galthie) is always there.

“William’s been fantastic for me. He also sort of speaks my kind of language as well as my kind of body language.’’

PETER JACKSON

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