Six Nations

Six Nations Championship

Edwards on a high after Grand Slam

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 February, 2014, 6:34pm

There were 74,000 fans packed into Cardiff as Wales clinched their Six Nations grand slam last month. And to hear Gareth Edwards tell it, every one of them was singing as the Welsh rode to a 29-12 victory over France. It was return to the glory days of the 1970s for Wales, a time when a certain diminutive scrumhalf ruled the rugby world with his fast feet and even faster hands.

And a mere mention of that night makes Edwards' eyes sparkle. 'You know, it means everything back home,' he said, while in town to help promote next year's British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa. And to take in the Sevens, of course.

'The All Blacks continue to be so successful - outside the World Cup of course - because they are never content to be runners-up. And Wales were like that for a long time. We used to punch above our weight and the people fed on that success.

'So this victory was just a huge lift to the nation. It just means everything, especially to the younger generation who had heard so much about the times when Wales were always winning grand slams.'

What impressed the 61-year-old most about Wales' title was the fact that their form came as such a surprise. After a dismal World Cup last year, many pundits expected the Welsh to simply make up the numbers come Six Nations time.

'To me it was all the more remarkable because it was so unexpected,'' said Edwards. 'There's no question that the missing element, the ingredient, was having [coaches Warren] Gatland and [Shaun] Edwards in there.

'There had been a lot of talk about player power in the Wales team, senior players wanting to do their own thing. But with those two I think players realised they had to do it their way, or it was the highway.

'Gatland made brave decisions. He didn't make the players feel insecure, but nobody was assured of their place at any stage and that made the players hungry. Nobody thought they could do it and for me that was so much the enjoyment of that season - to surprise everyone.'

What Edwards hopes now is that his country can build on their success and mount a serious challenge when the World Cup heads down to New Zealand in 2011.

'We had success a few years ago but things had gone backwards and I just hope we don't lose focus and build on this wonderful success,'' said Edwards. TV commentating duties and after-dinner speaking engagements these days keep Edwards close to the sport he loves and he admitted that he sometimes ponders just how he'd measure up to the modern game.

'You'd like to play in any generation, to see how you would adapt,' he said. 'Every generation has something different to offer.'

'Seeing Shane Williams out there has given us all hope, us smaller guys, that it isn't going to just be a game for the juggernauts, and the big boys, so that just proves that the very essence of rugby, which is that it is a game for all people, all shapes and sizes, is not lost. Because if we lose that, we lose the game.'

While helping promote the Lions tour, Edwards was able to meet some of the game's younger generation, specifically the under-14 team from Dubai College who had queued outside HSBC headquarters in Central to grab a word and an autograph from their idol.

And he said he had been impressed by what he had seen among the junior ranks in Hong Kong this week - and by the development of the game in general.

'The introduction of tag rugby at a young age has been a masterstroke in the development of the game,' he said. 'Kids love playing with a ball but kids don't like being hurt so to be able to play a game that takes that chance away is fantastic.

'Events like the Sevens make the game so accessible to people who might not have been able to find a way into it before. For people who don't have a tradition of the game, they can see it in short spurts - and that's how they get hooked.'