France team manager Raphael Ibanez has praised Shaun Edwards’ professionalism as the former Wales defence coach prepares for his Cardiff return.
Edwards spent 12 years on Warren Gatland’s coaching team, helping Wales to win four Six Nations titles — three of them Grand Slams — and reach two Rugby World Cup semi-finals.
After the World Cup in Japan, Edwards accepted a contract from France and has helped Les Tricolors win their first two Six Nations matches. On Saturday, they are chasing a first victory in Cardiff since 2010.
“We talked at the start of the week,” Ibanez said on Friday. “I just asked him what was the approach of the game, and if it was too much, maybe, emotionally.
“Shaun is very professional — his reply was pretty clear. He just said, ‘My only focus this week will be to do my best for the players,’ and that’s what he did, day in, day out. It was proper Shaun Edwards.
“You know Shaun knows more than me. He spent so much time and gave so much to the (Wales) national team. He has been very loyal to Wales and he loved coaching here. I just think we are very lucky to have him with us now.”
Edwards switched teams because France offered a four-year contract as opposed to a two-year deal on the table from the Welsh Rugby Union.
“We were a little bit disappointed he left us, but we’ve had Byron (Hayward) coming in and doing a great job,” Wales scrum-half Gareth Davies said.
“Everyone knows Shaun pretty well, he’s a world-class defence coach. It’s a big focus for us now leading up to the French game on how we can break that defence down. We know it’s pretty hard to break down as it’s a good defensive policy he’s got.”
Davies said Edwards helped him gain an insight into reading plays and master the art of the interception. Two of his most memorable were his 2018 Six Nations try against Scotland in Cardiff and the 60-meter effort against Australia at the World Cup in Japan.
“It was doing a lot of analysis work, seeing how different teams play,” Davies said of Edwards’ approach. “He’d tell me what he’d expect the opposition to throw at us, so I could pop into the front line every now and again and try and pick a few passes off.
“He was right quite a lot of the time. I’ve had a couple of intercepts from the analysis work I used to do with him. I do a lot of that stuff myself now, so hopefully I can pick one off against the French.”
That France top the table is all the more impressive because coach Fabien Galthie has rung the changes and drafted in inexperienced players.
The French XV will boast only 234 caps compared to Wales’ Six Nations record of 859.
“It’s our first away game so it will naturally be a test,” said openside flanker and captain Charles Ollivon.
“We know this stadium, its atmosphere, but we’ve done some serious preparations all week to play away from home and against the opposing players.
“It’s a test of maturity, like it was against England and Italy. It’s yet another step.”
Ollivon dismissed thoughts that France could be overawed and added: “In truth, it doesn’t really matter.
“We’re calm, we know our rugby. We must apply ourselves to be able to impose ourselves here. The number of caps doesn’t really change much.”
“We’ll stay focused on the rugby. We all know what we’ll be up against. We’ll keep our energy for then because I think we’ll need it.”
Ollivon said they were expecting it “to be tough up front, and a quick game”.
“There won’t be much time for a rest. We know the Welsh game, they like to play the ball and are capable of putting together multiple phases. It’ll be a tough battle with a lot of intensity.”
France have not win in the Welsh capital since 2010, but manager Ibanez wasn’t keen on dwelling on history.
The reason for no French win in 10 years? “Wales are a very good team and have some great players,” said Ibanez, the former France hooker capped 98 times for his country.
“We focus on the game now.”
15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Wyn Jones
Reps: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Jarrod Evans, 23 Johnny McNicholl
15 Anthony Bouthier; 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Arthur Vincent, 11 Gael Fickou; 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont; 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon (captain), 6 Francois Cros; 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Bernard Le Roux; 3 Mohamed Haouas, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille
Reps: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Jean-Baptiste Gros, 18 Demba Bamba, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Dylan Cretin, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Mathieu Jalibert, 23 Thomas Ramos