Powergen Cup Final: Edwards a man for club and country

Wasps coach offers England a part-time option
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Shaun Edwards wants to stay at Wasps for several years to come, and if that statement is seen by the Rugby Football Union top brass currently being advised in almost every quarter to shake up the England coaching staff as a hindrance to hiring him, it need not be.

"I don't see any reason why you can't do both, club and England," says the 39-year- old Wiganer.

The sporting cliché of making somewhere a second home was utterly apt for Edwards and Wembley during his record-breaking rugby league career with Wigan. Since becoming a coach at Wasps he has set about carving a similar niche at Twickenham: victory in today's Powergen Cup final would bring a fifth major trophy at union's HQ. But the truer meaning of the word "home" is of great and touching significance to the man touted by many as the answer to England's questionable performances of late, and explains his attachment to west London.

"Wasps have been a huge help to me during a difficult time in my life," Edwards says. "Lawrence Dallaglio and a few others have got their 10 years' long service awards. I haven't got one yet, and I want one."

The story hinges on a wretched twist of fate. It was early 2003 and Edwards was doing nicely at Wasps; recently promoted to head coach under the then director of rugby, Warren Gatland, relearning the ropes of the 15-a-side code (he once represented England Schools) and on the cusp of the first of three successive victories in the Premiership play-off final at Twickenham. There would also be a Heineken Cup win at the same venue against Toulouse in 2004.

His personal life was as settled as he could wish for; residing in Chiswick, he was a few miles away from his son, James, and on good terms with the boy's mother, the M People singer Heather Small.

Then came the bombshell from back home, his Wigan home. Edwards's 19-year-old brother, Billy Joe, was killed in a car crash with a fellow member of the Wigan Under-21 squad. Love and pride ripped out and replaced by a gaping wound which, three years later, is not even close to being healed.

"To be honest, if I didn't have the job at Wasps I don't know where I would be now," Edwards says. "It's not good to have time on your hands when you're in such pain - and the pain is still there, very strongly. My mum's at my brother's grave two or three hours a day."

The only reason that Edwards had left Wigan after 14 years and 40 winners' medals - including nine Challenge Cup final wins at Wembley - was to be close to his son. He left the family house to be occupied by his parents, Jackie and Phyllis, and had short spells with Bradford Bulls and London Broncos before retiring from playing. Now, spiritually - Edwards is a committed Roman Catholic - and professionally, Wasps is where he wants to be.

"The club was in a lot of turmoil last year, with Warren [Gatland] leaving, and Craig White [the fitness coach] and [assistant coach] Tony Hanks also going," Edwards recalls. "We were at a low ebb after going out of the Heineken Cup.

"I went to the board and said, 'I'll stay, can you extend my contract?' I have got another two years on it after this season. That's how I feel. I didn't move around as a player and I don't want to as a coach."

Edwards brought the rush defence - also known as the "blitz" - to the Premiership and made it the byword in title-winning, albeit Wasps, in difficult qualifying pools, have been knocked out of Europe early in the past two seasons.

"I remember the 1995 World Cup final, when South Africa used the rush defence very successfully to deal with Jonah Lomu," he says. "I had been watching all the games and I could not work out why none of the other sides used it against him."

England, of course, let the mighty All Black in for four tries in the semi-final in that World Cup. If only they'd known... For all his life experiences - his father was a star player for Warrington until suffering a back injury which eventually put him in a wheelchair - Edwards does not deal in "if onlys".

He says that Gatland and Wasps' current director of rugby, Ian McGeechan, have tutored him in the set-piece, and that he is a better coach than when he started five years ago.

Edwards's fellow code-crossers Joe Lydon and Phil Larder are the masters of England's attack and defence respec-tively. Larder prefers the drift or "slide" defence. But if the national team fancy a change of system, they will have to change the way they see their paid employees, too. Put simply: part-time not full-time.

"I would find it difficult to be involved with a team and have nothing to do for eight or nine weeks," says Edwards. "I'm a big believer that 'to rest is to rust'. I'm not saying the England coaches do this, but if you haven't seen your players for weeks, and you have got a lot of ideas in your head, there could be a tendency to over-coach. I had a chat with Ian McGeechan about it and he said if he coached at international level again, he would combine it with coaching at a club as well, and I agree."

Which suggests that the idea is one which McGeechan - and by extension Wasps - would give their blessing to. The oval ball is in England's court.