Edwards waiting for Wales' defining win
November 26, 2008
Welsh legend Gareth Edwards has backed Wales to upset the Wallabies in Cardiff this weekend © Getty Images
In terms of a respected voice in the game, few would look further than Gareth Edwards. As Wales' finest scrum-half, and arguably the best of all time, Edwards has seen the ebb and flow of the sport first hand over the last 40 years, and believes that a change in fortunes could be in hand for Wales as they round off their autumn campaign against Australia on Saturday.
After slipping to a narrow defeat to South Africa and a producing a feisty, if ultimately disappointing performance against the All Blacks last weekend, Edwards thinks that Warren Gatland's men could be just a stroke of luck away from that all important Tri-Nations scalp.
"Wales are getting there. We're 50% there although it's fair to say that we bettered New Zealand for a half," he said. "There are small things that happen in games that make big differences. There's not always parity in games and Wales didn't have to play for the whole of the second half, but maybe they had to take a few chances.
"There is no doubt Wales are getting closer to these top teams, no doubt about that."
Edwards' playing career took in 53 caps for Wales and ten for the British and Irish Lions, including series wins in New Zealand in 1971 and South Africa in 1974, yet he never tasted victory over the All Blacks in a Welsh jersey. With Wales going all out in the first half, that shock victory looked to be on the cards until the All Blacks took a stranglehold in the later stages.
"It's not that long ago that we were talking about competing for an hour and then falling away," he said. "Wales didn't really fall away at all last weekend, New Zealand had to work hard even if they had most, if not all, possession in the second half. Take it from me, it doesn't matter what era you play the game in, if you play in a defensive way, with the opposition keeping the ball it is very, very hard indeed."
Worries have been raised over Wales' belief and big-game temperament, although Edwards believes that it is unfair to criticise the developing squad's mentality in comparison with the Tri-Nations sides. "Success brings you confidence; they (the southern hemisphere) have got it in abundance. Wales are a pretty talented side and I thought all the boys gave every effort. They all had a go at it but suffice to say, we couldn't get into position. Great sides are able to lift their game, which is why they're champions.
"That's what you measure yourself against. New Zealand are capable of beating you by three points, five points or by 45 points, but the one thing they are very consistent at is beating you."
Following a pulsating occasion at the Millennium Stadium, much of the post-match talk centred on Wales' response to the Haka. The Welsh players stood as one during the Haka until the referee forced the players to disperse, and answered the All Blacks' challenge with a note of defiance all too often missing when these sides meet. "I thought it was excellent," Edwards said. "There was a lot of respect in that. I thought it gave the most wonderful, supercharged atmosphere. I thought the boys did well out of it."
Following the showdown Wales flew out of the traps, but were again found wanting at crucial times in the match as a streetwise All Blacks side starved them of possession. Edwards had some sage advice for Wales as they prepare for Robbie Deans' Wallabies, believing that a repeat of the errors seen at the start of the second-half against the All Blacks could derail their charge. "The difference between winning and losing to these teams can be quite small and very frustrating. You think you've measured up to them and then you lose," he said.
"At half-time against New Zealand we couldn't wait for the second-half to begin. Instead, they took the initiative. They were aided and abetted by some sloppy play from Wales, but you have to stop and wonder, 'why did we do that there?' Games slip away from you in moments like that."
With Wales striving to end their autumn series on a high and players soon back into Heineken Cup action and then the Six Nations, attention will soon turn to next summer's Lions tour to South Africa. Edwards predicts a crucial time for players in the coming months, "Having experienced the reality of having been a player and hoping to get in the team and having watched it over the past 30 years, seeing how things can change so dramatically with injuries, I think form over the next two months will be vital.
"To be fair, Andy Powell has put his hand up. He had a rude awakening against the All Blacks, but all of a sudden you think 'I could visualise this guy on the grounds in South Africa'. I'm also surprised that Tom Rees has been left out of the England squad [to play New Zealand], he's a player who I think might make an impact."
One of the key areas for debate in the coming months will be at Edwards' old position of scrum-half, where there appears to be several candidates all very much in with a shout for selection. Edwards sees the race to the Test jersey as being wide-open, "Nobody is quite making the mark at the moment. I thought Gareth Cooper played well on Saturday and Dwayne Peel is a class act, I expect him to come through strongly.
"I was quite excited about young [Danny] Care a couple of games ago, but he hasn't quite stepped up yet and with [Scotland captain] Mike Blair, we know that he's an experienced operator. I still like Dwayne Peel and of course he's also a seasoned campaigner and has been a Lion. He hasn't fired on all cylinders yet since he's moved to Sale and taken a while to settle in. I think it's wide open."
Gareth Edwards is an HSBC ambassador. HSBC is the Principal Partner of the British & Irish Lions Tour to South Africa next summer. For more information - www.lionsrugby.com