Defence is only thing on Edwards's agenda
Rugby:Shaun Edwards has insisted that any personal disappointment at missing out on this year’s British and Irish Lions tour will be shelved in the pursuit of another Six Nations title.
Wales defence coach Edwards was a surprise omission from the Lions coaching staff for this summer’s three-Test Australia tour.
Lions boss Warren Gatland, Edwards’s long-time coaching mentor at club and international level, has described last month’s decision not to take his ex-Wasps and current Wales colleague Down Under as “agonising” and “difficult”.
While Gatland will be joined in Australia by Wales’ Six Nations interim head coach Rob Howley, plus England assistants Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree, Edwards’s summer diary entry is a short Wales tour of Japan.
“Obviously, everyone wants to go on a Lions tour, as a player and as a coach,” Edwards said today. “But the decision has been made. ‘Gats’ has made his decision, and obviously I am abiding by it.
“I am not going to forget how much Warren Gatland has done for me over the last 10 years. Most of the things I have achieved in coaching have been through him and his help.
“He has been a great mentor for me, and hopefully he will continue to be that in the future. He has made a decision which went against me, but there is no way my loyalty will be questioned.
“I couldn’t be more determined. I had a break over the Christmas period, I went on holiday, and I am very much focused on trying to defend our (Six Nations) championship.”
Wales will launch their Six Nations title defence against Ireland in Cardiff next Saturday.
Not only have they been hit by injuries - notably in the secondrow where Alun-Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris and Bradley Davies are all currently unavailable - but Wales are also on a run of seven successive defeats.
They have not beaten another Test-playing country since defeating France to clinch the Six Nations title and a third Grand Slam in eight years at the Millennium Stadium last March.
The recent autumn series produced losses to Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia, and Edwards has no doubt about the main lesson that must be learnt.
“In the autumn, it took us two-and-a-half games to get going, to get up to the speed of international rugby, in all aspects of the game - the set-piece, the scrum, the lineout, the defence, the reaction to turnovers - whatever it was, we were a yard off the pace,” he added.
“Our attack in the second-half against the All Blacks was absolutely fantastic, and against Australia we conceded 14 points, which is the lowest we have conceded against them by a considerable margin. But it took us two-and-a-half games to get to that level. We can’t afford to do that this time. We have to hit the ground running.
“We always have very competitive games against Ireland with a lot of close scorelines. The results have gone our way in the last few games, but we know we are against a formidable opponent.
“We understand the standard of opponent we are going to come up against on Saturday, and we have to try to overcome it, but it can’t take us two-and-a-half games to get going like it did in the autumn.”
Howley is due to name his starting line-up on Thursday, with Dan Biggar a firm favourite to replace injured outhalf Rhys Priestland, while fitness permitting, the secondrow partnership is pointing towards Ospreys pair Ryan Jones and Ian Evans.
Jones is recovering from a dislocated thumb suffered a fortnight ago, while Evans has not played since the autumn because of knee trouble.
Should either, or both, be ruled out of contention to face Ireland, then a selection door would probably open for uncapped locks like James King, Andrew Coombs and Harlequins’ Olly Kohn.
Bristol-born Kohn, 31, only joined up with the squad yesterday - he qualifies for Wales through his late grandfather, who hailed from the Rhymney Valley – but a role against Ireland cannot be discounted.
“Olly plays for the team (Quins) who are number one seeds in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, so he is obviously operating at quite a high level,” Edwards said.
“He is a very, very powerful scrummaging, genuine tighthead secondrow, and there are not that many of them about nowadays. We felt we needed beefing up in that area. Hopefully, in the next few weeks, Olly will potentially get his chance.
“He brings a physical presence. His scrummaging power would be at the forefront of his game, but he has other parts, too.
“That was his first training session today, so clearly lineout calls are all new to him, but he plays for the number one-seeded team in the Heineken Cup and he’s a pretty smart operator.”