Wales made me proud, says Edwards

(Rugby News Service) Wednesday 19 October 2011
 
Wales made me proud, says Edwards
Gareth Edwards in action during the 1974 Lions tour of South Africa

AUCKLAND, 19 Oct. - Wales great Gareth Edwards foresees a bright future for the luckless Dragons following their fabulous but ultimately disappointing Rugby World Cup 2011 campaign.

The legendary scrum half from the greatest era in Welsh rugby spoke to Total Rugby Radio about his immense pride at Wales' outstanding performance in New Zealand, as well as his belief that the young squad assembled by Warren Gatland can reach greater heights in the future.

Despite a gut-wrenching semi-final defeat by France last Saturday, Edwards was effusive in his praise for the dynamic display the side gave against Les Blues in losing by one point at Eden Park - particularly as Wales had to play over an hour with one man less following captain Sam Warburton's red card.

"Wales were on the rack very, very early on, but I don't think anybody could have foreseen the effort from those lads and, dare I say it, it would probably have been the greatest performance by any team at any time had they won it - and the harsh reality is they could very well have won it and probably should have won it," Edwards said.

"They created the better chances in the second half and they'll rue the fact that they couldn't make the most of those penalties and maybe a few chances at the end.

"It was a huge, huge effort. I've got to admit that once Sam Warburton got sent from the field of play I really thought Wales would be able to hold a powerful France pack for a start but not for the whole duration of the game and it would only be a matter of time (before France pulled away).

Defied logic

"But they showed everybody they are really made of stern stock. I know it sounds gushing, I am really proud of the Welshmen. But had it been any side with that performance, you'd be paying them plaudits. It defied logic, really."

However, Edwards, who starred in the world-famous red shirt of Wales from 1967 to 1978, was not about to blame Irish referee Alain Rolland for Warburton's sending off for tip tackling Les Bleus wing Vincent Clerc, preferring to emphasise his dismay at France's poor performance in winning 9-8.

He said: "Everybody has a different view of it. The truth of the matter is the referee's decision is final. It was a sad loss for Wales to lose their captain and really one of their star players who has contributed so much.

"But I was bitterly disappointed with France that they seemed quite content to just soak it up and just play for time, and then realise with maybe about 15 minutes to go that they could easily lose it.

"I don't think it went into their minds at half-time that they were ever remotely in danger of losing the game. But it was there for all to see - it was very, very close."

Flanker Warburton - who is the second youngest captain of Wales after Edwards - was a star for the Welsh at RWC 2011 and will undoubtedly shine on the pitch again after his three-week ban ends on 6 November.

Caught the imagination

Edwards, who is a director at Warburton's club, Cardiff Blues, has been convinced by the 23-year-old's status as the most exciting forward in world rugby right now.

He said: "There were seasoned internationals and overseas internationals telling me about this young lad three, four years ago, that he was by far the most impressive player in the Cardiff Blues squad, even though he was hardly playing.

"He was sort of on the fringe and of course he had a great mentor in (Wales' most-capped forward) Martyn Williams and we always wondered when he would be taking over from Martyn and if he ever would - and of course he has just shown us very much overnight that he has really caught the imagination.

"But, to be fair to him, he's been showing us that kind of capability for a number of years."

The 64-year-old also believes Wales have shown enough brilliance in the backs and ferocity up front to be a world power for many years to come following impressive displays against sides such as South Africa, Ireland and, of course, France - even if they suffered  heartbreaking one-point defeats to the Springboks and Les Bleus.

"Wales's performance during the World Cup has been far beyond my wildest dreams," Edwards said. "We were all trying to be sensible about the whole thing. It was a difficult pool from which to get out from and, indeed, it proved to be the case.

Bright future

"The lads have really played with so much heart and fervour and certainly skill that now the future looks so bright that I'm looking forward to not just this Australia fixture, but the one in December, when Australia come to the Millennium Stadium, and, dare I say it, looking forward to next season's Six Nations.

"We hope that these boys can recapture the kind of form we have seen over the last month and we've got a very bright future and an exciting team to follow."

Edwards, who knows a thing or two about exciting rugby having scored probably the most famous try of all time when touching down for the Barbarians against the All Blacks in 1973 at Cardiff Arms Park following an incredible flowing move involving seven players, has thoroughly enjoyed RWC 2011.

"What's been good all throughout it is there have been some very well-matched ties and it's been good to see some of these second-tier sides, even if it's only been for maybe 40 minutes or an hour, giving the senior teams something to really think about.

"They're showing quite a bit of progress coming into the game. Georgia, even Russia to a certain extent, have showed they are all becoming part of this rugby family - this international rugby family.

"I've been very, very pleased with the games I've seen - some outstanding matches and very exciting ones, which of course makes it even better."

RNS pj/sg