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England's debt to Shaun Edwards: 'I'd go to his house, have chats'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

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If you ever need an example that the rugby world is a very small place, then look no further than the influence that a trio of former Wigan rugby league players – Shaun Edwards, Andy Farrell and now Martin Gleeson – will wield with France, Ireland and England in the 2022 Six Nations and then through to the following year’s World Cup. The first two names have been around the block on the Test rugby union scene, Edwards now coaching the French defence after years of success with Warren Gatland’s Wales, and Farrell now calling the shots as Irish boss after doing his apprenticeship as defence coach under Joe Schmidt and before that with Stuart Lancaster’s England.


Now, Gleeson has cantered onto the scene, snapped up by Eddie Jones to become the new England attack coach after just one-and-a-half formative seasons coaching in the union code at Wasps after a career in league. The irony of it all is that but for copious conversations over the years around at Edwards’ house when he was working with Wales, the imagination in Gleeson to cross codes would never have been ignited.

That free tuition leaves England with a lot to be grateful for and the prospect of these old pals coming up against each other in Paris on March 19, Edwards’ defence trying to shut down Gleeson’s attack, is a dynamic that will be laced with intrigue. Edwards was a rugby league hero growing up to the wide-eyed Gleeson. Now the pair will be rugby union rivals and what unfolds will hopefully be something to savour. “Shaun Edwards is a big influence on me coming to rugby union,” said Gleeson at the end of his first training camp with England this week.

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“When he was the Wales coach I used to go and see him throughout the year and we’d talk. He spoke about defences when I was still in league, how in league would you defend against this? Just general rugby chat. He was teaching me some stuff about the game. I’d go to his house and we’d have some good conversations and that really started piquing my interest in the game. He was a good reference for me to then get into the game when I first went to Wasps.

“Shaun Edwards is someone who played and had success at Wigan, where I am from. I watched him as a kid growing up, he was a big influence. He is someone who had that successful playing career and then went into a different code coaching and the success he has had, he is a really special guy.

“As I was watching the games, especially with Shaun, we were mainly talking about the D side over the course of a number of years, I started seeing stuff that I thought you could do in attack against the defence so I started looking at it from the other side. I have always been an attack coach. In my mind when I am doing stuff I am always looking at little things where I think you could maybe do this, have a look at that or try that. My interest piqued more and more over time. Chatting with Shaun I was aware that a lot of the league guys who came over were D.


“I thought there was a bit of a nuance there where I could bring in something a little bit different, the way teams defend, the difference to league. I just thought if I could come and show these other things potentially you have got a bigger toolbox to attack from against certain styles of defences. It’s just through those conversations with Shaun that my interest piqued and I got more and more I want to pursue this and see where I can go with it.”

Gleeson has gone a very long way in a short space of time and he is now coaching an international team that has Owen Farrell, the son of the aforementioned Andy, as its skipper. “He is very similar, similar mannerisms, very thorough in what he does,” he said when asked to compare son to father. “I have been really impressed with Owen, his desire to improve his game, his desire to work hard and the way he is with the lads and leads in training. His dad was a great player and a fantastic leader and Owen is a chip off the old block.”


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