Close mates go on defensive ahead of Millennium decider
IF Wales's Six Nations decider with England ends in a 0-0 draw at the Millennium Stadium, there may just be a few flat caps thrown into the air in Wigan on Saturday evening.
For it will mean that two of the town's finest have done their jobs to perfection.
In charge of defence in the red corner this weekend is Shaun Edwards; doing the job in the white corner is his old team-mate at Wigan Warriors rugby league club, Andy Farrell.
Their duel is an intriguing sub-plot to the main event, given an extra edge as Farrell has been chosen as Warren Gatland's defence coach for the Lions tour of Australia ahead of Edwards, the Kiwi's long-time coaching partner.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
But anyone expecting relations to be anything other than cordial between the pair in Cardiff can think again.
Despite their professional rivalry, the two Lancastrians remain close friends. It's just that they'll be doing all they can to outdo each other this weekend.
Here's Edwards's take on Farrell: "As a player, when he first came into the Wigan team he was probably the most mature 17-year-old I'd ever come across. He was always destined for greatness as a player.
"He has always had a great knowledge of the game.
"The first time he played at Wembley, he was 17, and he was rooming with the Wigan captain Dean Bell, obviously to look after Andy.
"The morning of the game, Dean is up and being sick and nervous, and Faz is saying to him: 'Don't worry Dean, we will batter these, mate'.
"He went on to achieve greatness as a player. He won the golden boot as best rugby league player in the world, and I always know he would go on to be an outstanding coach in league or union."
The appreciation is mutual, if Farrell's quotes after he was announced as Lions defence chief are anything to go by. "We've got the same sort of background and know each other well," he said at the time. "We're both from the same town, the same club — it couldn't get any more similar, really.
"I class myself to be a similar type of character and competitor to Shaun and we've both won things along the way, so it's not a bad combination to have. We're good friends.
"Our paths cross a lot. There are a lot of good-luck messages between us either way. He was the first one to text me after England beat New Zealand to say congratulations.
"After the disappointment for him of Wales losing to Australia on the same day, it was very much appreciated on my part."
Edwards is just edging his old mate on stats in this Six Nations.
England may have made more tackles than Wales (462 against 423) but the red shirts have completed an impressive 92 per cent of their hits compared with England's 88 per cent and conceded just three tries compared with the old enemy's four. Another startling fact is that Wales have gone 277 minutes without conceding a touchdown, just 23 minutes shy of five hours.
Their defence has almost come to resemble the Bermuda Triangle, with people who venture forth seemingly at risk of being swallowed up and never being seen again.
Last weekend against Scotland they missed just two tackles all game, achieving a 98 per cent tackle completion rate. That is magnificent defending, close to being as good as it gets.
Farrell is top notch at his work, too. When his son Owen and Chris Ashton are taken into account, the Wigan connection is strengthened even further.
"England have a lot of Wiganers in there," said Edwards. "Young Faz at 10, Ashy on the wing and Joel Tomkins is knocking on the door.
"It is a hotbed of rugby talent in Wigan. Andy Farrell and I are not playing at the weekend: it is a players' game and always will be. It is not about us."
That said, it is clear that Edwards is operating at the top of his game in this championship. Like Farrell, he is a winner to his core, a motivator who is also a deep thinker about the game.
You'd imagine he would have been elated with the way Wales kept out the Scots when down to 14 men in the final minutes at Murrayfield.
He isn't big on taking credit for himself, though.
"The lads are very determined to concede the least tries in the competition. We've had a history of doing that in the last few years," said Edwards.
"We conceded the least number of tries last year, and hopefully we are going to concede the least tries this year. We are up against one of the biggest challenges, offensively, in England."
He added: "It's great that rugby can have such a great ending to the Six Nations
"England? The fact that they beat the All Blacks in such a resounding way and scored all those points against them, I think gave a lot of kudos to the championship.
"They were everyone's favourites going into the competition, and they are favourites going into the game on Saturday.
"There is a lot of expectation and a lot of pressure on them. England have not won a Grand Slam for ten years, which is a long time, but we are concentrating on ourselves."
Wales have evidently taken strength from their autumn troubles and problems at the hands of the southern hemisphere's finest. They were down barely five weeks ago, being spoken about as potential wooden spoon candidates.
But three away wins have propelled them back into title contention, and Edwards said acting head coach Rob Howley deserved credit for the turnaround.
"He has done a strong job," he added.
"In the autumn, we were battered — absolutely annihilated — by injuries, both in the games and before the competition even started.
"Rob showed a lot of courage to pick Sam Warburton at the weekend. It was an absolute brilliant selection and showed a man of great courage and foresight. I think he's done a brilliant job.
"You have to be resilient. It was heartbreaking to lose those games in Australia last summer, but we stuck at it. We are resilient, which is something you have to be in life and sport, and Rob is a very resilient person."
So is Edwards.
And the Welsh defence? How to break them down will be England's problem this weekend.