Planet Rugby

Loose Pass

24th December 2012 07:00

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Shaun Edwards looking on

Tough times: Shaun Edwards

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with Shaun Edwards, Dan Carter, Scott Johnson and John Mitchell...

You can't deny it's been a particularly rough couple of months for Shaun Edwards. Overlooked for the Lions in favour of Andy Farrell, his Wales side tumbling to a dreadful November and now London Irish also falling to earth in the Premiership. Not even Sale have a worse defence.

Not all of that is Edwards' fault by any stretch of the imagination. But it's also tough to look at that all and say that Edwards is not approaching a seminal point in his career.

One of the most focussed and knowledgeable students of the game around, Edwards is a character whose intensity can be intimidating.

On the Lions tour of 2009, at a fun quiz night involving both coaching staff and journalists, Edwards spent much of his time giving one-word answers to most, palpably itching to get back to his room and continue his analysis of the opposition. Later in the evening he was seen examining bits of paper with the Gauteng side's line-out moves on them while all around were piling into the claret.

If you've seen the video of the 2009 Lions tour, you'll remember that his were the most impassioned reactions whenever fortune befell or favoured the tourists. The moment when the TMO confirmed Jaque Fourie's try in the second Test was pure theatre.

But he's also been fighting on many fronts for a while. Wales and Wasps, now Wales and London Irish... there are few other coaches who carry as heavy a workload as he. Yet after several years of success, it's suddenly not working on any of the fronts.

Defences and attacks go through cycles, defences tighten up, then attacks work them out, then defences tighten up again... it's the way the game works.

This time Edwards seems to have run out of answers. The London Irish defence is the worst in the Premiership and while Wales' is hardly catastrophic, nor is it the fine filter that leaked only three tries in the 2012 Six Nations.

The end of this season might be the time for Edwards to take some time off, freshen up and then revisit what he does. The mark of the very greatest players and coaches - think Brian O'Driscoll and Graham Henry - is the ability to re-invent oneself when circumstances demand it. This appears to be Edwards' next challenge.


Racing Metro or Toulon for a year... it's a tough life being Dan Carter. The 30-year-old has this unenviable choice as a result of the creativity of the NZRU, who opted to work with Carter's desire to coin a payday abroad rather than compete with it.

A splendid choice. But if you were he, where would you go? Take the once-off opportunity to become one of Toulon's galacticos or join a Racing Metro side boasting slightly fewer big names but slightly more of a home-grown and less thoroughly mercenary atmosphere?

Carter has made no secret of how much he enjoyed his time at Perpignan, nor have they made it any secret how much he was appreciated for his aptitude at slotting in and appreciating the local community.

Our money is on Racing to win this time...


Back to the subject of re-inventing coaches, Scott Johnson now has another stab at a national tam role, on the back of two short and bitter stabs with Wales and the USA, as well as a time at the Ospreys.

A colourful character renowned for his ability to get close to all players he comes across, Johnson's greatest critics have always pointed to his inability either to think well under pressure as a Head Coach, or to make the tough decisions and the harder calls on players known to be within his innermost circle. Even his time at the Ospreys left his detractors uncertain how able Johnson was to face the pressure as main man. 'Great skills coach, not much of a leader' has been the most common review of him.

At Scotland right now, the pressure never lets up. So we'll see if Johnson has been able to re-invent himself.


Moving onto a coach who's never been shy of adapting to circumstance and digging in, but will John Mitchell be able to steer the good ship Sale home this time?

He brought up the Force and turned around the Lions in Gauteng, but looking at Sale's desperate defeat to Wasps on Saturday, on the back of the drubbing they received at the hands of a shadow Toulon side, you have to ask whether even he is able to swing this one.

On March 30th, Edwards' Irish welcome Mitchell's Sale to the Madejski, when one of those two stories looks set to come to the end of a chapter. You won't find a shortage of passion in the dugouts that day...

But for now, let's hope they, as you and we, have some time off and enjoy the festive season! A very merry Christmas from all at PR HQ!

Loose pass compiled by Richard Anderson

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