A Tribute To...Gareth Edwards

Barney Corkhill@@BarneyCorkhillSenior Writer IOctober 8, 2008

Barney Corkhill's A Tribute To... series moves to look at rugby. In this series I look at the greatest talents to grace various sports.

Today's tribute is to the man widely regarded as the greatest player to have ever pulled on a rugby shirt. In a time when Wales were utterly dominant, he was their star player. He has scored two of the most famous tries of all time, and was an all-round genius with a rugby ball in his hands.

I speak, of course, of the great Gareth Edwards.

Born on July 12th, 1947 in the small village of Gwaun-cae-Gurwen in Neath Port Talbot, Wales. He was born to a miner.

From an early age it became apparent that Gareth Edwards was something special. With the right kind of tutelage, it was widely regarded that Edwards could become a truly great player.

The man assigned that task, and the man who would become Edwards' mentor, was Bill Samuels. He spotted his potential while Edwards was still in his early teens, and started coaching him.

Edwards was a talented football player as well, and was actually offered a contract to play for Swansea. Edwards was more keen on rugby, however, and Bill Samuels was desperate to make him focus on that as a career.

He convinced Edwards to go to Millfield Public School in Somerset, and helped him get the scholarship needed to get into the prestigious sports school. It was here that Edwards first met fellow Welsh rugby great JPR Williams.

It wasn't just rugby which Edwards excelled in, however. He impressed at other sports, including gymnastics, athletics (he was the Welsh national long jump and British schools sprint hurdles champion) and football, during his time at Millfield.

It wasn't long before his supreme rugby skills were noticed by the some of the top clubs, and he signed a contract with Cardiff RFC, opting to go back to Wales.

Edwards soon became the star of the Cardiff side, despite still being in his teens. In 1967, he received his first international call-up.

On April 1st, 1967, Gareth Edwards started against France in Paris. He was just 19-years old. Wales couldn't win that game, with France triumphing 20-14, but Edwards had established himself as an immediate fixture in the Wales side.

After a few more games in a Wales shirt it became apparent that Edwards wasn't just capable at this level, he thrived on it. He quickly became something of a fan-favourite, and one of the first names on the team sheet.

Such was his talent and leadership that just one year later he was named as the Welsh captain for a game against Scotland, despite still only being 20-years old. Edwards and Wales were 5-0 victors, and Edwards became the youngest player to ever captain Wales, a record which still stands today.

He was named in the British Lions squad to travel to South Africa later that year. Still only 21, Edwards started the first two tests of that tour.

Edwards had shot to widespread fame at an early age, but showed no signs of letting it go to his head. He remained one of the best players in the world throughout 1969 and 1970.

It was in 1970 that Edwards suffered his first injury, against England. He had to leave the pitch with 20 minutes remaining. This is significant because it is the only time in Gareth Edward's 11 year international career that he failed to complete a match.

Every Wales match there was in that time, Edwards played in. He was never dropped, never injured, (minus the injury mentioned above which didn't cause him to miss the next Wales match).

1971 was really to be his year, however. He had a huge part to play in Wales' Five Nations Grand Slam, their first since 1952. It was the beginning of the great Wales side of the '70s, which included the likes of Barry John, regarded as one of the greatest fly-halves ever, alongside Gareth Edwards.

Also in this side was Edwards' fellow Millfield school-mate JPR Williams.

That year he was selected for the British Lions for the tour of New Zealand. The tour was a huge success, and Edwards was at the centre of it all. He played in all four tests as the Lions won the series 2-1 (one was drawn).

Overall on the tour, the Lions won 22, drew one, and lost one. It is a record in New Zealand the likes of which had never been seen before nor since.

The following year more glory followed as Edwards scored one of the best tries ever, against Scotland. He ran most of the length of the pitch, and displayed his phenomenal strength, speed, and stamina to score it. Click here to see that try.

What a try. Yet it is debatable whether it is even Gareth Edwards' greatest. The very next year, while playing for the Barbarians, Edwards finished off what many regard to be the greatest in rugby union history. It is just referred to as that try.

More success followed in 1974 as he was again named in the Lions squad. This squad ended up rivalling the 1971 one for the greatest Lions tour of all time. Edwards was the ever-present scrum-half in both of them.

This time touring South Africa, the Lions won every single game but one, drawing against the Springboks in the final test, after already having wrapped the series up 3-0.

In 1976, he played another pivotal role in a Wales Five Nations Grand Slam, furthering the unprecedented success the Welsh side were experiencing at the time.

The following year he declined the opportunity to make a return to New Zealand with the Lions, and the year after won his final cap for Wales.

Overall, he had played 53 times for his country, at the time a world-record, and was one of the few players throughout history who could never be dropped. From his debut for Wales in 1967 to his final match in 1978, he played in every single Welsh game.

He scored 20 tries for Wales, again then a record for a scrum-half. He made ten appearances for the British Lions.

Since his retirement, numerous players, including those he played with and against, have said he is the greatest of all time. In 2003, after a poll by World Rugby magazine, he was named the best.

So here is to the greatest rugby player of all time, this has been a tribute to Gareth Edwards.

Click here to see other tributes made by this author.


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