Shaun Edwards wants rugby to target the real head-hunters he believes are putting players’ health at risk.
The Wales defence coach – who links up with the national squad this week for his final full season before switching codes back to rugby league – is concerned the game’s rulers are barking up the wrong tree with their current high profile campaign to clamp down on high tackles.
Instead of the emphasis being solely on defenders having to lower their target area when they bring down the ball-carrier, Edwards believes it is those defending players themselves who are more at risk when they are contesting the ball at a ruck.
The so-called ‘clear-out’ at the ruck, says Edwards is probably responsible for more serious injuries – but not so many people care because defenders are seen as a nuisance by lawmakers obsessed with making high try counts the be-all and end-all.
Next month’s Under Armour series launches the 13 match countdown to the World Cup Japan next year and Edwards can’t wait to have a crack at Scotland, Australia, Tonga and South Africa.
His speciality is defence and but he knows Wales are going to be up against it.
“There are so many points being scored in international rugby at the moment. The average conceded by each team in the Rugby Championship was 27.5, with the All Blacks the best at 20-21 points,” says Edwards.
“Some teams were up at 33 points average. That proves the game isn’t like it was five or six years ago.
“Particularly in good conditions, which we always have with the roof closed, it is difficult at times to slow the ball up at the ruck. That’s the big thing, and that’s why people who can get in and over the ball are becoming even more valuable.
“Administrators want more tries and most people come to a game to watch attack. It is almost as if defence is a necessary evil, but you have to protect the defensive players as well as the attacking players.
“I don’t care what anyone says, that isn’t being done equal measure at the moment. Sam Warburton is 100 % right, that’s why people who are getting in over the ball are getting injured.
“I’m not telling them what to do, but the number of people getting injured in defence is probably higher than the other way around. That’s because people are allowed to fly off their feet and clean people out with their shoulders at the ruck when players are trying to jackle on the ball.
“Competing for the ball in rugby union, at scrum, line-out and breakdown, an equal contest, is what the game is all about.”
Edwards will return to his fist love – Wigan rugby league club – after next year’s tournament, but the 52-year-old wants to do all he can over the next 12 months to help Wales win the World Cup.
That would ensure that both he and head coach Warren Gatland go out with a bang. They’ve been close before, but 2019 is the time to light the cigar.
“I just want to go out with a bang and we want to get into the big games. That’s what I always wanted to do when I was at Wigan, get into quarter-finals, semi-finals and take it from there,” says Edwards.
“We’ve got a pretty good record and we should have been in the World Cup final in 2011, but one decision went against us. We could have been in a semi-final in 2015, when a big decision went against us and Bryan Habana was a mile offside at that ruck.
“It would be nice for a few decisions to go the way of the northern hemisphere teams, as opposed to going against them – England, Scotland and us. Maybe we should moan a bit more.”
Edwards is not closing the door on a possible return to Welsh rugby when he leaves at the end of the 2019 World Cup to take up the head coach role at his former rugby league club, Wigan.
Edwards was one of Gatland’s first signings when he took over the Welsh job in 2008 and the former Wasps coaching colleagues have united to deliver two Grand Slams, a third Six Nations title and World Cup semi and quarter-final places.
Both men will leave after 11 years in Wales, with Gatland set to head home to New Zealand. Edwards, meanwhile, is returning to the 13-a-side code after a stellar coaching career in the union game at club and international level.
But as he starts to contemplate a future without Welsh rugby, he warned not to rule him out of a return in the future. He has a four year deal at Wigan, where he spent 14 years as a player, but still wants to coach way beyond that.
“It is a bit strange to think this will be my last autumn series as a Wales coach in this current period I’ve been coaching them. But I could always come back to rugby union and I’ve get every intention to do that sometime,” admitted Edwards.
“The thing about the people in Wales is they have accepted me as one of their own. I was talking to an old gentleman who moved up to Wigan 40 or 50 years ago and he said the people in Wales and Wigan and the North West are exactly the same.
“I’ve been accepted, although the fact we won a Grand Slam in the first season helped. The thing that helped me when I first came to Wales was the fact I’d won a Heineken Cup.
“I’d already been at that level. If you’d not won a Heineken Cup, you’d not been at that level. I came into Wales as a current European champion with Wasps in 2007.
“I was already used to the pressure of a Heineken Cup final. Some people say you learn more by your losses, but I disagree with that – you learn more by your wins, when you prepare a team properly and you do the job on the day.”