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Could Gatland's big call be end of a great relationship?

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: December 13, 2012

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THEY were the couple who famously sat across a pub table on Valentine's night and talked about scrums, line-outs and blitz defences.

It was 2008 and while all around were saying it with wine and flowers, Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards were plotting the most improbable of Grand Slams, one that saw Wales lift European rugby's most treasured Test bauble just five months after they had crashed and burned at a World Cup.

Edwards said at the time: "We went to the local pub and it was Valentine's evening.

"All these couples were sat there staring into each other's eyes and I'm sat there with him on Valentine's night talking about rugby. Those are the sort of sacrifices you have to make to be a top coach!"

A second Grand Slam followed, earlier this year, to add to the 2004 Heineken Cup success the pair oversaw at Wasps, plus three successive English Premiership titles. Theirs has been a relationship bonded by silverware. They have been, in short, rugby soulmates.

But one of the great partnerships in the sport was yesterday put under pressure when confirmation came in that Gatland had failed to include Edwards in his coaching team for the 2013 Lions tour of Australia.

Instead, Andy Farrell was given the defence coach gig, with Rob Howley put in charge of the attack.

It was like Ginger McCain and Red Rum being parted ahead of Aintree circa 1977, Lillee being split from Thomson, or Fleming finding that McEnroe had gone off to play doubles with someone else at Wimbledon in the early 1980s.

Rather than overdo the Welsh influence on the touring party, Gatland has evidently opted for balance, with Farrell and forwards coach Graham Rowntree supplying a strong English flavour.

Scotland supply the doctor, James Robson, while there are suggestions Gatland could look towards Ireland for his captain — a Test swansong for Brian O'Driscoll, perhaps?

Asked about the absence of Edwards (right), Gatland said: "Obviously he was disappointed. It was an agonising decision to make. But when I looked at the set-up, I wanted continuity from 2009 and the experience that was gained there, but also a bit of freshness.

"Andy is well thought of and comes hugely recommended. But that is taking nothing away from Shaun, who is a world-class coach and has been very successful in the role he has. It was a tough decision, but I have made that call and it is something I have to live by."

The question is whether it will damage Wales, with Edwards having made no secret of his desire to undertake a second Lions tour after his experiences in 2009. He is not even heading up the Wales trip to Japan this summer: that job goes to Robin McBryde. Will the Edwards- Gatland link be threatened by his Lions omission?

Wales hooker Huw Bennett, who has worked under the pair, doubts that will be the case.

"I'm sure it will not hinder their relationship long term," he said.

"They are professionals and my guess is they will put it behind them and focus on what's good for Wales. That said, it a surprise because a strength of Wales over the past few years has been down to the coaches working so well together. All of them get on and bounce ideas off each other."

If that is to happen this summer, it will have to be by telephone, there being 5,000 miles between Sydney and Osaka. For sure, it is one of Gatland's biggest calls.

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