Six Nations 2014: Shaun Edwards plans another red wall to block England
Tuesday 04 March 2014
Wales are aiming to clinch a fourth win in a row over England for the first time in 25 years at Twickenham this weekend. And, of all the members of the reigning Six Nations champions' set-up, it is Wigan-born Shaun Edwards who has done as much as any Welshman to mastermind their recent dominance over their arch rivals.
It is close to five hours of rugby since England last scored a try past Edwards' red brick wall, when Manu Tuilagi celebrated his international debut with a touchdown in the pre-World Cup friendly, at Twickenham, back in August 2011. Little wonder that Stuart Lancaster is so keen to have the centre back on board for this Sunday's pivotal match.
Wales have set new standards under Edwards, having broken records for the fewest points or tries conceded in the process of winning three championships in five years. A fortnight ago they shut out France for a fourth successive game; this weekend, they aim to do the same to England.
"We have one of the best defensive coaches in the world in Shaun and it's something we actually enjoy and pride ourselves on. A good defence wins championships," said outside-half Rhys Priestland.
"We haven't conceded a try against England for the last three games and we aim to make it four. But they are the in-form team and have dangerous strike-runners so it's a massive challenge."
Wales stuttered against Italy and failed in Dublin but re-emerged with a display worthy of champions against France. Yet England remain the scalp they treasure most, not least as they aim to clinch a fourth win in a row for the first time since 1989.
"Wales versus England sends shivers down the spine and I'm sure the English lads feel the same," said Edwards. "My background has nothing to do with the way I go about my job. I'm just coaching against an opponent and my job from the boss is to keep their points tally down.
"I'm lucky as a coach that I have a group of players who don't just switch on when we have possession, but have the same enthusiasm when the opposition have the ball. In fact there are some guys like Dan Lydiate and Gethin Jenkins who prefer not to have the ball."
No one need tell Wales scrum-half Rhys Webb what this game means to the Welsh public. This time last year, the 25-year-old was part of the crowd celebrating the historic 30-3 victory in the pubs and clubs of Cardiff. Now he hopes to be one of the protagonists at Twickenham.
"Everyone in Wales grows up with the rivalry against England. My first memory is watching Scott Gibbs score at Wembley in 1999," said Webb. "We know what the supporters are like but we have to try and stay calm and try to treat it as another game."
Webb managed to do that on his full debut against France after Mike Phillips was dropped for losing his head, as well as the game, in Dublin. Warren Gatland now has a dilemma, though Phillips' experience could win out.
Jonathan Davies and Alun Wyn Jones have both returned to training following injuries and are both set to be named by Gatland on Wednesday.
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