Shaun Edwards: France defence coach set for second Wales reunion

Shaun Edwards with France in Cardiff in February 2020
Shaun Edwards with France in Cardiff in February 2020

Defence coach Shaun Edwards is preparing for a second reunion when France host Wales on Saturday in Paris. It is an occasion he hopes he will enjoy more than the first.

After a 12-year stint as part of Warren Gatland's Wales coaching set-up finished at the end of 2019, Edwards helped his new France side defeat Wayne Pivac's team in the Six Nations in February 2020 in Cardiff.

After France had offered Edwards the four-year deal that Wales had not following the 2019 World Cup, you might think he was been glad he had proved a point at Principality Stadium.

Not a bit of it.

"I did not really enjoy that game," Edwards told the BBC Scrum V podcast

"The last match was very emotional. It was my first time back in Wales and I had only left a couple of months before.

"I wanted to get it over with. I knew I was representing France and they have put a lot of faith in me and didn't mess around in having a contract etc.

"I wanted to repay that faith they showed in me and be part of a winning team. During the game I was focused on winning. But I just wanted the day to be over.

"I am pretty good at putting things into compartments. The fact they won or we might have won would never affect the friends I have made, because the friendships I made in Wales go beyond a game of rugby.

"Although rugby is massive to our lives and it's my job, friendships are more important than that.

"I loved my time in Wales. I don't think I have ever had as consistently strong support from the public as I did when I was in Wales."

The friendly fixture goes ahead despite the backdrop of lockdowns in Wales and a night-time curfew in Paris.

France and Wales will play for the first time since early March and are preparing for delayed Six Nations matches against Ireland and Scotland the following weekend, to complete their campaigns.

Wales will have been training for a fortnight, while France will have been together less than a week after a deal was struck between the clubs and the French Rugby Federation (FFR) over player release.

Those off-the-field matters are not something Edwards is focused on as he prepares for a match that will be played behind closed doors at the Stade de France.

"I am not sure if it's going to work in anybody's favour," said Edwards.

"We only have a week to prepare so I have just to try and concentrate on that, get the lads primed and ready for what will be a difficult match against the current Six Nations champions.

"We have four or five days together. We will have one full day of active training and have other things alongside and hope the players have retained information from the Six Nations.

"Recent history will tell you there have been many close games between Wales and France, most of them one score either way. Maybe it will be the same on Saturday."

Gethin Jenkins in Wales training with coaches Wayne Pivac, Neil Jenkins, Byron Hayward and Stephen Jones
Gethin Jenkins in Wales training with coaches Wayne Pivac, Neil Jenkins, Byron Hayward and Stephen Jones

Wales will have a new defence expert in their coaching staff, with ex-prop Gethin Jenkins taking over from Sam Warburton as the new breakdown technical advisor. He is a character Edwards knows well.

"He was a phenomenal defensive player, he was like a fourth back-rower," said Edwards.

"He was great in many facets but in my opinion he is one of the greatest defensive players of all time. He was a very intelligent rugby player. It makes sense now he is a coach.

"I don't think he will waste words, he is my kind of guy who just gets on with things."

That no-nonsense approach synonymous with Edwards has helped him thrive in his new role and try to avoid any language barrier.

"I can coach in French, I just keep my sentences to an absolute minimum," said Edwards.

"There is nothing new there because people who I have coached in English will tell you my longest sentence is about six or seven words.

"The hardest thing is to listen in French because people from different parts of France have different accents.

"But they did not employ me to wax lyrical in French. They employed me to improve the defence and help win games."

And Edwards is coming to terms with his new role in Fabien Galthie's coaching team.

"The welcome has been excellent from everybody," said Edwards.

"I am used to being here a bit more now and am here to do what the French people want.

"They have put faith in me by giving me a four-and-a-half-year deal and I am here to try and win rugby matches.

"The thing I have felt is everybody wants a good French team. It's good for world rugby to have a good competitive French team. We are looking to provide that."