Edwards reaches another milestone
August 2, 2007
Gareth Edwards is 60. It hardly seems possible for a whole generation of rugby fans who still revel in his heroics on the rugby field. John Taylor reports
He was the first player to reach 50 caps for Wales (53 in all) - now probably worth about 120 because we played far fewer internationals and caps were only awarded against the other home nations, France, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa in those days - and, incredibly, he won them consecutively over 11 seasons.
During that time Wales won three Grand Slams, five Triple Crowns and Edwards made three Lions tours playing in all the tests as the Lions beat New Zealand in a series (2-1 with one drawn) for the only time in their history in 1971 and beat South Africa (3-0 with one drawn) for the first time in 1974.
He was the scorer of that Barbarians try, certainly the most famous try in the history of the game and has been voted the greatest player in the history of the game in numerous polls.
It is always difficult to compare generations and positions in rugby but I was lucky enough to play alongside him (and do his tackling) in 24 of those internationals and I would say unequivocally he is the greatest scrum-half I have ever seen.
Last week many of his old friends gathered at Celtic Manor for a huge charity dinner to celebrate the golden boy coming of age and Gareth and I spent some time reminiscing.
'Definitely the first cap - the thrill of being selected, the pulling on of the jersey, the match seemed to be over in a flash. Dewi Bebb scored a brilliant try but we lost and I was hugely disappointed because I thought we could have won and it had all happened so quickly.
'Then Dewi did something so typical of the man. He had ended up with the match ball and gave it to me as a memento. Stuart Watkins then gave me his opposite number, Christian Darrouy's, jersey because he knew I would want to keep my own first Welsh jersey. Darrouy was the French captain that day which made it even more special.
'The other memories? Not so much the achievements although my 50th cap was a bit special but more the friendships that have lasted a lifetime. I feel blessed I was playing at that time as part of a great team and it's only now I realise when people say how much pleasure we gave them - and not just Welsh people, strangely - how much we helped to put rugby on the map.'
Would you like to have played professionally?
'As a 20 year old I'd have loved it. The time you felt like a professional - except for the fact you weren't actually being paid - was on a Lions tour when you were a full-time rugby player for three months or more.
'I think we were instrumental in making it happen because we changed the game as a spectacle. We played some great rugby, people wanted to watch and the demands became greater. Something had to change.
'I'm just surprised it took so long to happen. In our day you could be professionalized for even talking to a Rugby League club - we were scared of the authorities but amateurism couldn't last with the demands they were making on players.'
What do you think of the modern game?
'There have been huge changes. It's only now looking back that you realise how loose the game was in our time but that was wonderful in a way because you could transform defence into attack much more quickly. 1971 was probably my favourite year because we played some beautiful rugby as Wales and as the Lions.
'New Zealand have shown some terrific counter-attacking over the past few years but, generally, the game is much more defensive and gladiatorial. I do worry about the effect on the bodies of these guys.'
Do you wish there was a World Cup in our time?
'Yes, because you always like to compete at the highest level and measure yourself against the best. When we took New Zealand's mantle on the Lions' tour we could claim to be the best in the world but it was all unofficial and when we played them in Wales it was never quite on equal terms - they were on tour, it was our first match and we were probably under prepared. Yes I'd have loved a World Cup especially because we know from New Zealand how difficult it is to win.'
'No, absolutely none. I wouldn't have swapped anything for the world. I believe we should have beaten New Zealand in 1972, I think sometimes I might have gone on one more Lions tour or carried on for a little longer for Wales but I knew it was the right time to finish and get on with the rest of my life at the time so, no regrets.
'It's much more a question of being grateful for what rugby gave me and hoping that the modern players have the same lasting friendships that I have.'
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