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Wednesday, 6 November, 2002, 14:27 GMT
The state of the Union
Edwards (with ball) in action for Wales during the 1970s
Edwards won three Grand Slams and five Triple Crowns

In the latest of our weekly Legends series, Gareth Edwards tackles the pressing problems facing Welsh rugby.


As arguably the greatest player ever to don a Welsh jersey - some would say any rugby jersey - Gareth Edwards left quite a legacy.

The focal point of the great Wales and Lions teams of the 1970s, the revered scrum-half was synonymous with panache, passion and success.

But those qualities are conspicuous by their absence in Welsh rugby these days, as the game teeters on the edge of the abyss.

Not a week goes by without someone proclaiming the sport is dying in the Principality, or being overtaken by football in the nation's conscience.

But if successive Welsh teams for the past 20 years have laboured in comparison with the 70s vintage, the professional era has brought the decline into sharp focus.

"The game has moved on rapidly and whereas every country has had its problems, Wales - more than any - has been left behind in its wake," Edwards states.

To illustrate how times have changed, one only has to look at how far Wales have fallen behind their greatest rivals England.

In the 12 matches he played against England from 1967 to 1978, Edwards was only on the losing side once.

By contrast England have won 10 of the last 12 meetings, and scored 265 points in the last six - an average of 44 a game.

"Our players need better preparation and the opportunity to play at a higher intensity, like the English players do in the Zurich Premiership," Edwards insists.

"The main difference at the moment is that they have a very good domestic league where the top players have to play week in week out under the microscope.

"In recent years too many of our lads have had one week on, one week off and some games have not been as demanding as others."


The WRU has to take responsibility for the fact that we haven't moved forward
Gareth Edwards

Edwards, as a director of Cardiff, can see at first hand the problems faced by players struggling to keep pace with their English, French, Irish and Scottish counterparts.

Wales' professional clubs are failing in Europe, while the national team finds itself down among the Six Nations makeweights.

The whole structure of the professional game is currently under review, with proposals for a reduced number of 'area teams' being discussed by the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU).

Edwards concurs with the view that there are not enough quality players for a full-blown domestic league, and that Wales must concentrate its resources.

"People might say I am biased and I have a personal interest because of my involvement with Cardiff," Edwards notes.

"But if it has to have another name or another dimension, I don't think the idea should be put to one side just because of parochialism.

Wales players hang their heads after a heavy defeat last year
Wales have struggled badly against England in recent years

"On the other hand you have over 100 years of history with some of these clubs.

"The bottom line is though that the Union hasn't got the money to keep more than four or five top teams in being. So you are stuck between the cliff and the deep blue sea."

Even if the clubs can agree on a workable solution, the bureaucratic leviathan of the WRU remains a formidable obstacle to change.

"The Union has got to take responsibility for the fact that we haven't moved forward," Edwards insists.

"They have moved at snail's pace, avoiding very big issues by hiding behind loosely democratic voting rights for all the clubs.

"How the hell can 230 junior clubs vote for half-a dozen senior clubs when the message being put over is that they will be taking all their money?"

Confidence

Amid the doom and gloom pervading the domestic scene, Wales face further autumn Tests against Fiji, Canada and New Zealand.

Edwards remains optimistic in the potential for improvement at national level and the team's ability to front up to the All Blacks.

"We have got some very good players but what is missing at the moment is a bit of confidence," he added.

"These games should bring them on. Some of them are very young and as they gather experience I expect good things from them.

"New Zealand might not be at full strength but there is never a weak All Blacks side. It is an opportunity to muscle up to guys who will be serious contenders in the World Cup."

Sadly, for Edwards and the great names of the 70s, Wales can no longer be considered in the same category.


Part Two: Gareth Edwards recalls scoring the most famous try of all-time.


Rugby heroes
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