Edwards keen to keep English flag flying against 'Wales in blue'
Wednesday 28 April 2010
When it comes to flying the flag, no club does it better than Wasps.
A 60,000 Twickenham crowd created a fabulous atmosphere at the club's superbly organised St George's Day game last weekend during which the England banner was everywhere to be seen – unlike English clubs in Europe this weekend.
The Heineken Cup, which Wasps have won twice, contains no English representatives in the semi-finals this weekend for the first time since 2003. Wasps are the nation's sole remaining European competitor and they face Cardiff Blues on Saturday in the Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final at Adams Park.
"A team from the capital of England against a team from the capital of Wales," as the Wasps coach, Shaun Edwards, described the tie. He also described the task facing his team as "massive". "We are taking on a full international team, one containing some of the best players in the game, and in Gethin Jenkins, the best loosehead prop in the world.
"I should know, I work with most of these guys on a regular basis in my capacity as a Wales coach. We have our work cut out, but the opportunity to end the season with a trophy is there, along with the fact that we've qualified for the Heineken Cup next season. I just don't get it when people suggest we're having a disappointing season."
If Wasps go on and win what used to be known as the European Challenge Cup, it would be their 11th major trophy since the turn of the century, an outstanding statistic from the only club to have stood between Leicester and total domination of the English domestic game for most of the decade.
Edwards, involved in so many of those Wasps triumphs alongside a succession of rugby directors – Warren Gatland, Ian McGeechan and now Tony Hanks – insists the Challenge Cup is a stronger all-round competition than before and therefore all the more worthwhile to win. "When you introduce teams who have just missed out during the Heineken Cup pool stages," he said, "it enhances this tournament. We have Toulon, the best team in France on form at the moment, seeking a place in the final. That's the measure of the competition now."
Hanks admits to disappointment at the way the St George's Day bash turned out on the field, a whopping 35-19 defeat by Bath, but believes there is evidence to suggest his players have the character to make that experience work to their advantage against Cardiff.
"We weren't clinical enough, failed to respect the ball and were not accurate enough in defence. But when you take the emotion out of the equation and analyse the game overall, we showed character to come back from a very poor start.
"It's been a difficult campaign in terms of injuries and absentees on Test duties. But we are in the mix for a trophy again."
The veteran prop Phil Vickery, 34, missed most of the season following neck surgery and has only just returned to action these past two weeks. The former England captain has achieved everything in the game – World Cup winner, World Cup runner-up, Six Nations title triumphs, Heineken Cups, Premiership titles, RFU Cup triumphs and playing for his beloved Lions.
Yet old "Raging Bull" can't help pawing the ground in anticipation. "This is like playing Wales wearing blue jerseys instead of red," he said. "I've fought alongside some of these guys for the Lions and fought against them playing for England. This is a game where uncapped players will be in a distinct minority. I'm a very proud Englishman, and I make no bones about it. Saturday we're flying the flag."
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