London Evening Standard
Eddie Jones’s rebuilding job with England following their World Cup shambles could not have been more extensive, with the entire coaching regime of his predecessor Stuart Lancaster replaced this week at an estimated cost of £2million.
But one RFU target, Shaun Edwards, the right-hand man of Wales coach Warren Gatland, has not been lured to Twickenham — and Dan Biggar, the undisputed star of the principality’s World Cup campaign, could not be happier about it.
“Who would have blamed Shaun for wanting to coach England?” said the 26-year-old fly-half. “If anyone deserves a shot at it, with his track record and how good a coach he is, he should have a great shout. And he’s English!”
Listening to Biggar talking about Edwards, there can be no doubt the former rugby league star would have shaken up those who inhabit Twickenham’s corridors of power. “A lot of people say that they’re intimidated by Shaun… and he’s quite scary,” admits the Ospreys star. “He has scared me quite a few times.
“You don’t really want to mess about in training or make many mistakes because he’s not the type to pull you to the side and have a quiet word with you. He’ll let rip on the training field or in the changing room.
“He’s been, for me, the biggest influence on the Welsh team in the last few years in terms of his determination to win, attention to detail, his motivational skills. He’s superb and he’s a major reason why we’ve had so much success over the last few years.
“Shaun Edwards staying is a massive thing. It means that familiarisation of the routines, the training sessions, the schedule of the days, what they expect from us, that all stays in place.
“If somebody else had come in and wanted to do things a different way, it would have taken us a bit of time to react and get used to it. Now that everyone is staying in place, it’s a massive relief to Wales as a whole and for us as players it gives us confidence in being familiar with everyone in the camp.”
Exactly, Biggar believes, what England failed to do during their troubled tournament. “For instance, we weren’t expecting to face [Sam] Burgess in the Twickenham [pool] game,” he admits. “He’s an outstanding rugby player… but in rugby league.”
Biggar acknowledges some of the changes were forced on head coach Lancaster through injury but says: “All of a sudden one or two boys come in from nowhere and you have to adjust to what their habits are, what their strengths and what their weaknesses are. So England found themselves struggling in terms of not quite knowing each other’s games, whereas we’re so comfortable with each other and what our strengths and weaknesses are individually.”
When it came to injuries, Wales suffered more than most but chose to replace like with like — much to Biggar’s benefit. When Leigh Halfpenny, Wales’s ace goal kicker, was ruled out of tournament in a warm-up game, it was Biggar who was handed the responsibility. “It was what I wanted to do anyway,” he says. “I really enjoy that side of the game.”
He enjoyed it so much that night at Twickenham that he scored 23 of Wales’s 28 points in the stunning victory, winning at HQ for the first time in three attempts and landing the man-of-the-match award.
The night also brought to a world audience Biggar’s unique kicking routine that sees him swaying in time to music only he can hear and touching his shoulders and hair before kicking.
It has been dubbed ‘The Biggarena’, after Los del Rio’s 1995 smash hit Macarena, but Biggar says: “It certainly wasn’t inspired by that! I’ve always tended to have a bit of a shuffle and a bit of a fidgety routine but in the World Cup warm-up camps I tried something to get a little bit more comfortable on the ball and take my mind away from the technical points of the kick.
“When you’re goal kicking, you’re in a little zone of your own. What I’ve tried to do just eases me there, so I’m not trying to focus too much on the actual kick.”
To ensure he gets it right, he treats every kick “a bit like an eye test”. He explains: “If there’s an advertising board behind the post, I’m looking to hit, say, the letter O. I’m sort of squinting at the letter a little bit. I know if I miss the O, I’ve still got a good chance of hitting another letter on the board.”
The eye test worked so well that Biggar racked up 56 points in a tournament that his team-mates who have played in World Cups before acknowledged was “the best in terms of audiences, stadiums and crowds”.
Wales’s World Cup ended when they lost a close quarter-final to South Africa but next up on the international calendar is the Six Nations championship, starting in February, where Biggar feels ultimate glory is achievable. “We’re confident in our chances of having a real good go at it,” he says. “We’re certainly going to be up there. It’s exciting.”