Good luck to Shaun Edwards. Wherever Wales’ current defence coach finally decides to hang his hat after the Rugby World Cup, and the indicators are now pointing toward France, his employer will have a proven winner on their hands with an unparalleled CV in either code of professional rugby.
“I’ve never lost a final in rugby union,” Edwards said last August at an official press conference at the DW Stadium to announce he would be returning to Wigan Warriors as head coach in November 2019.
“Four English Premierships with Wasps, two Heineken Cups, two European Champions Cups and the Anglo Welsh Cup when it was a major trophy. Nine finals, nine wins. I like to think I’ll be remembered as a big game coach.”
Indeed, since being announced as Wigan head coach, you can add another Grand Slam and a record 14-Test winning run to his already magnificent CV.
Edwards, from the time he used to run the great Wigan team’s training sessions when still in his early 20s, has known how to cajole, motivate and boss the hardest and grisliest rugby players on the planet.
By no means the most technical coach, for whom professional sport’s obsession with data is anathema, Edwards has achieved results through relentless work-rate, passion, insight and an innate understanding of what makes rugby players tick. They love him for it, too.
“Wales need to do everything they can to keep hold of Shaun,” one current Wales player told me this week before it was announced Edwards would not be staying in the Principality.
“You can’t begin to overstate how important he is to the current set up.”
Whoever is coached by Edwards next, after an 11-year stint with Wales, won’t know what’s hit them. His next contract, wherever and whenever it is actually signed, will be lumpy.
But what a faff it’s been getting there. Warren Gatland is not the only one who’s grown tired of what has, over the past few weeks and months, become the Shaun Edwards show.
We knew he was a fierce competitor on the field but the 52-year-old has played the hardest of hard balls off it in recent months as first he agreed to return to Wigan before revealing after Wales won the Grand Slam (and his market value had exponentially increased) he hadn’t signed a contract and was actually back on the market.
The news came as a shock to Wayne Pivac, the man replacing Warren Gatland in November, who immediately reopened talks with Edwards, who had effectively shut them down last August by announcing his move to Wigan.
Last month he shook hands with Pivac, just as he had with Wigan chief executive Ian Lenagan last summer, looked him in the eye and told him he would accept the deal he’d been offered.
On Thursday, he announced he wouldn’t.
Confused? You’re not the only one.
In simple terms, Edwards has played the market to perfection. Basic economic theory dictates if demand outstrips supply it drives up prices. Throw in talks with Harlequins, Wasps and Dragons, who along with Wigan and Wales were all interested in his services, and Edwards is undeniably in demand.
He has driven up his price and his next contract will be significantly higher as a direct result of his negotiation tactics. Many will say all’s fair in love and contract negotiations. Good luck to him.
Others will argue Edwards’ tactics will come at a personal cost which is harder to measure than the number of noughts on the end of a contract.
“His legacy at Wigan is tarnished forever,” said one well-placed source at the club where he won eight Challenge Cup finals as a player.
“It will take a very long time for people at this club to forget what he’s done. We feel played and betrayed.”
The loss of trust is absolute.
Edwards will have known how much his appointment as head coach will have meant to tens of thousands of fans of a club where he was once revered as a god as the on-field fulcrum of arguably the greatest sports team in British history. In a town which lives and breathes rugby league, his shock appointment last summer brought immeasurable joy.
For Wigan, now read Wales.
Clearly, the response of fans should not dictate where an individual chooses to take a job but the lack of regard for the collateral damage caused by agreeing and then reneging not once but twice has been startling, even in the cut-throat world of professional sport.
Edwards will get the best deal for himself and good luck to him. There may well be an extra nought on his next contract. But in some people’s worlds a handshake and your word is still worth something.
MJ Arlidge wrote: “Trust is a fragile thing – hard to earn, easy to lose.”
There are some things in life you can’t put a price on.
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