Shaun Edwards embraces ‘risk’ move to take Wigan Warriors job as Phil Vickery rues English rugby’s loss

The current Wales defence coach will leave his role after next year’s Rugby World Cup to return to Wigan as head coach

Jack de Menezes
Thursday 09 August 2018 12:29
Shaun Edwards will become Wigan Warriors head coach in 2020
Shaun Edwards will become Wigan Warriors head coach in 2020

Shaun Edwards admitted that he has taken a risk by turning his back on a potential ‘safe’ job in rugby union in order to return to Wigan Warriors in a sport that does not give head coaches long to show their credentials.

The 51-year-old will leave his role as Wales defence coach following next year’s Rugby World Cup to move back to the club that he spent 15 years with during a standout rugby league career, having won 25 major trophies with Wigan and captained them during their most dominant spell in the club’s history with eight consecutive Challenge Cup final wins between 1988 and 1995.

The end of his rugby league career sparked a move to rugby union as a specialist defence coach with Wasps, Wales and the British and Irish Lions, but the opportunity to return to his hometown club proved too good to turn down – even if he may not be destined to succeed.

"Wigan was a huge part of my life for 31 years, I only left to be close to my son. It's through my bones," Edwards said on Thursday after being unveiled as their new head coach from 2020, with former Wigan half-back Adrian Lam set to fill in for him after Shaun Wane leaves at the end of the current season.

"I'll be straight, some people think I'm taking a risk. Rugby league, let's be honest, doesn't have a great record when it comes to sticking with coaches for a period of time.

"I could be fully employed for the next 10 to 15 years in rugby union but it's a risk I'm prepared to take because this is a special place."

Edwards has spent the last decade with Wales working under head coach Warren Gatland, having also worked with the New Zealander at Wasps and on the 2009 Lions tour of South Africa. But he was previously courted by the Rugby Football Union, only to slip through their grasp when he turned down the England Saxons job in 2011 – having missed out on the top job to Stuart Lancaster.

Phil Vickery worked under Edwards at Wasps and on the 2009 British and Irish Lions tour

He was also in contention to join Eddie Jones’ current set-up following the exit of Paul Gustard – who beat Edwards to the Harlequins director of rugby role – but the Australian has elected to appoint former All Blacks coach John Mitchell instead.

That failure to involve Edwards within the England set-up was criticised on Thursday by Rugby World Cup winner and former England captain Phil Vickery, who said that his loss to both English rugby and rugby union is a blow.

“If only Shaun Edwards could have helped out the @EnglandRugby team,” Vickery wrote on Twitter. “Can’t help but think something is wrong, the best coach I’ve ever had the pleasure of being around, well done @WiganWarriorsRL you’ve got yourself a winner again, and above all else a great man.”

Edwards will still see out his contract with Wales, which expires after next year’s World Cup in Japan, after admitting that it would have been "untoward and disloyal" to walk out on the national team so close to the tournament. But that only adds to the feeling at Wigan that they have landed the right man, with chairman Ian Lenagan adding: "Shaun's integrity in wanting to complete his commitments with Wales is very commendable," Lenagan said.

As a result, Lenagan has appointed former Wigan player Lam on a short-term deal, with the former Papua New Guinea international set to leave NRL side Sydney Roosters to take charge of the Super League side next season once Wane departs for a new role with the Scottish Rugby Union. He may not be the only Lam who moves to the DW Stadium either, with his son a potential transfer target for Wigan during the off-season.

"That's still a possibility," Lam said. "He's in negotiations with the Roosters and we'll go through the process with it and we'll know a bit more in the next week or so."

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