Jonathan Davies: Edwards to concede nothing as Welsh go on the defensive

New coach seeks discipline in a bid to break 20-year Twickenham hoodoo
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The Independent Online

Looking back on that day in 1988 when Wales beat England 11-3 at Twickenham, it seems ridiculous that we've gone 20 years without repeating the achievement.

Certainly, those of us who were in that Welsh team wouldn't have believed we'd be in for that length of wait. The other memorable fact about that game is that England scored just three points (only a late penalty by Jonathan Webb saved the whitewash).

Wales open their Six Nations campaign at Twickenham on Saturday, but can you imagine them restricting England to three points there these days? Not with Jonny Wilkinson about, you can't.

What people remember most about that game were the two thrilling movements in open play that led to Adrian Hadley scoring two great tries. But I remember something else – how disciplined we were. Webb didn't score any other penalties because we didn't concede many.

Neither did we miss any tackles. The game was pretty much a case of the English forwards against the Welsh backs, and we tackled our hearts out before letting loose with some adventurous attacking.

It is an interesting memory because Shaun Edwards, Wales's new part-time defence coach, was making the point last week about the importance of defence. But he wasn't talking in a negative way, he was talking about using defence as an attacking tool, creating a firm foundation for your attacks, which you cannot do if you are leaking tries all the time.

Shaun has been talking to some of the Welsh legends of the golden decade of the 1970s. They are remembered for their glorious rugby, but they confirmed to him that it was founded on an ability to defend fiercely and efficiently.

Defence and discipline are the key words. If you infringe and concede penalties, you can be nine points down before you get into your stride.

Having talked to Wales's head coach, Warren Gatland, and Edwards over the past week, I reckon they have the approach right. They have hardly any time to spend with the players before Saturday, so the message is being kept simple.

Gatland is asking for 100 per cent commitment. If he gets that he will be satisfied whatever the result. Honesty and loyalty are important words for him. He will emphasise the fundamental importance of set-piece, defence and contact area. He won't want to see silly ball thrown around, as Wales have had a habit of doing. If we don't get the basics right, he says, there won't be any ball to throw around.

If he can get these simple ideas firmly fixed into his players' minds and they don't try to complicate things, I believe Wales can make a very good game of it. They are capable of winning if they can compete up front, smash opponents in the tackle and get more gain-line success.

Gatland has quite cleverly pointed out the disadvantage his opposite number, Brian Ashton, has been put under by the Rugby Football Union's decision to give him only a 12-month contract. That suggests he will be judged on results, which scarcely gives him the incentive to pick a team with an eye to the future.

As the coach of World Cup finalists playing in front of a record Twickenham crowd, Ashton will be under severe pressure to win and win well, so he will opt for the tried and trusted. He will probably lean towards strength and knowhow to put Wales in an early stranglehold and slowly but surely dominate the game before introducing some eager young blood later.

He will spend the week sweating on the injury problems involving his back-rowers Nick Easter, Joe Worsley and Lewis Moody. Coincidentally, this will be one of Wales's strongest departments, with the happily unretired Martyn Williams back alongside the new captain, Ryan Jones, and Jonathan Thomas. The trio have 131 caps between them.

I can't see anyone else but Wilkinson taking the outside-half spot, and he'll be controllingthe big English pack in their quest for domination.

At No 10 for Wales, James Hook may be preferred to Stephen Jones since the Llanelli man has not been playing enough lately because of injury, and there is an interesting choice to be made at scrum-half. Dwayne Peel, who will be joining Sale next season, has also had injury problems, and Gatland may go for the Ospreys scrum-half Mike Phillips, who despite playing as understudy to Justin Marshall has a more confrontational style which may be more suitable on this occasion.

Centre is a competitive area, with Gavin Henson, Tom Shanklin, Sonny Parker and Jamie Robinson all with claims, and the only player certain of his place in the backs is Shane Williams.

A Welsh visit to Twickenham always poses several big questions, and this particular contest is likely to be more searching than most. It can't fail to be a hell of a game.

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