Wasps 24 Munster 23: Edwards' latest triumph rescues Wasps and excites Wales

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The Independent Online

A clever sort, Shaun Edwards – sufficiently cute to persuade Paul Sackey to change his boots midway through this fierce and fractious Heineken Cup contest in Coventry, thereby minimising the England wing's chances of costing Wasps another tranche of points at either end of the field. Sharp enough too to recalibrate the reigning European champions' defensive mechanism, thereby denying Munster so much as a sight of the sticks as the dispute reached its climax. The man is a diamond, which is why Wales want him in their coaching team and Wasps want him to stay in London. Ever tried to cut a diamond in half? It isn't easy.

Edwards has long insisted that as the weekly challenges presented by professional club rugby keep him on the edge, where he needs to be, any international job he might accept would have to be a part-time arrangement. So what will he say when Warren Gatland, the New Zealander with whom he enjoyed such a close working relationship at Wasps in the early years of this decade, asks him to set up shop in Cardiff – as the new head coach of Wales certainly will at some point in the coming weeks?

"It's all hypothetical," he began. "I haven't been offered anything yet, so let's wait and see what happens, eh?" Not good enough. Pressed hard on the issue – after all, it was barely 24 hours since Gatland had made it perfectly clear that Edwards was his partner of choice – he opened up a little.

"Warren is the boss there, and if he wants a full-time coach alongside him, then decisions will have to be made," he said. "Personally, I don't see why it has to be a full-time post. When you look at the way defence coaches operated until recently, Mike Ford worked with both Saracens and Ireland and made a go of it, Dave Ellis was with Gloucester as well as France and Phil Larder combined Leicester and England with considerable success. Whenever I've been approached in the past, a number of issues have been in the way. One of them was my concern over long periods of inactivity."

One of the great rugby league players of his generation, Edwards' instinctive grasp of the union game, allied to his motivational skills, has earned him the undying respect of the Wasps players, many of whom would not show respect to a saint if they could conceivably help it. He might have made a serious pitch for the England job when Larder was sacked 18 months ago, but for the political friction between the Premiership clubs and the Rugby Football Union, and he was approached by South Africa as recently as last spring. "Can you imagine me on the touchline at the World Cup final, wearing a green shirt? They'd have put me in the Tower."

Resourceful as they are – and this narrowest of victories, achieved despite being 13-3 and 23-13 down, reinforced the impression that if opponents are serious about seizing the spoils they must beat the champions several times over rather than just the once – Wasps can ill afford to lose him. Sliced up by Ronan O'Gara's accurate kicking and some enterprising midfield running from Munster's southern hemisphere centres, Lifeimi Mafi from Tonga and Rua Tipoki from New Zealand, the holders were unusually vulnerable in the opening 40 minutes. Edwards sorted it during the interval, to the extent that Sackey stayed upright for the entire second period and Fraser Waters rediscovered his talent for slamming doors in the faces of all-comers.

Sackey cost his side at least five points, and probably seven, when he slipped on the moist surface attempting to capitalise on Danny Cipriani's alert tap-and-go raid five minutes before the break. He then fell flat on his backside a second time when O'Gara reached for the sliderule and caressed the ball towards Shaun Payne off the outside of his right boot.

"Paul was wearing blades, not studs," Edwards said. "He warmed up in the blades but I assumed he would change his boots. I didn't dream he wouldn't, given the evening kick-off and the dew. Let's say we worked it out during the interval, as a priority."

Waters, who had also had his rough moments in the first half, was a very different proposition after the break. "It's not easy to turn your game around like that," Edwards said admiringly. "Fraser wasn't Fraser in the opening period and when you start badly, things can easily stay bad right the way through.

"I was delighted with the way he responded. In the second half, he reminded everyone why he means so much to this club."

Mafi and Tipoki, so threatening early on, made precious little headway once Wasps' famed "black wall" had been reconstructed in Edwards' image. Indeed, the visitors scored only three points in the second 40 and once George Skivington, a second-row forward sufficiently athletic to have spent meaningful time on the open-side flank this season, galloped over for the home side's second try at the end of the third quarter – Riki Flutey's footwork and a clever inside pass from Tom Voyce were the principal ingredients – the wall grew several feet higher. For all the efforts of the aggressive Alan Quinlan, who played a mighty hand in the scrap for the loose ball, Munster failed to put O'Gara in drop-goal range as the clock ticked down.

It was a fine match, watched by the best part of 22,000 spectators. Yet there was a sense of dissatisfaction at the end. When Wasps, down to the bare bones in terms of props, lost both Tim Payne and Nick Adams to injury, uncontested scrums were called. Munster voluntarily withdrew their props and replaced them with loose forwards; in response, Wasps withdrew the squat front-rower Michael Holford and sent on the lean and lanky Dan Leo in his stead. The occasion deserved better than to be dragged into the realm of farce, just when things were getting really serious. No more of this. Please.

Wasps: Tries Flutey, Skivington; Conversion Cipriani; Penalties Cipriani 4. Munster: Tries Tipoki, Payne; Conversions O'Gara 2; Penalties O'Gara 3.

Wasps: M van Gisbergen; P Sackey, F Waters, R Flutey, T Voyce; D Cipriani, E Reddan; T Payne (M Holford, 65; D Leo, 78), R Ibanez, N Adams (J Ward, 71), S Shaw, G Skivington, J Haskell, T Rees, L Dallaglio (J Hart, 52).

Munster: S Payne (T O'Leary 77); B Carney, R Tipoki, L Mafi, A Horgan; R O'Gara, P Stringer; M Horan (J Paringatai, 78), J Flannery, J Hayes (T Buckley, 35; A Foley, 78), D O'Callaghan, M O'Driscoll, A Quinlan, D Wallace, D Leamy.

Referee: M Changleng (Scotland).