Sir Gareth Edwards is often described as the greatest player that has ever graced a rugby pitch. But what was so magical about this one man?
As a youngster I would ask my rugby-obsessed father, “Dad, who is the best rugby player ever?” His response was instantaneous: “Gareth Edwards.”
This seemed a strange response to me, firstly because both my father and myself are devout England supporters, but also because of my age. With my earliest rugby memories coming from the early 1990s and beyond, this name meant little to me.
Yet this man achieved so much in his career. In the eleven years that he was an international, he won three grand slams, Lions series wins in both New Zealand and South Africa and scored arguably the greatest try that has ever been, “that try”:
Edwards’ humble upbringing only adds to the legend: his father was a miner from Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen, north of Swansea, and Gareth went to school at Pontardawe Technical School for Boys.
His early sporting prowess earned him a scholarship to one of Britain’s elite public schools, Millfield, in Somerset, where fellow Welsh legend JPR Williams was also educated.
His debut for Wales came in 1967 when he was just 19 years old, against France at the Parc des Princes in Paris. Wales lost that day 20-14, but his talent was obvious and he went on to become the youngest ever Wales captain at the age of just 20.
Throughout his Wales career he won a total of seven Five Nations Championship titles, with three of those being grand slams. Being part of a glorious Wales side that include such names as Barry John, Phil Bennett, Mervyn Davies, JPR Williams and more, the Wales team produced consistently powerful performances that put them amongst not only as one of the best teams in the world at that time, but one of the greatest ever.
As well as this, Edwards was part of two of the greatest ever British Lions teams: the 1971 team that toured New Zealand and the 1974 team that toured South Africa. The 1971 squad is the only one to have won a test series in New Zealand and the 1974 side won 21 of their 22 fixtures, drawing the other.
But besides the plethora of titles and trophies throughout his career, why is he held in such esteem? Well, Edwards had everything, he was the complete package. A beautiful service, kicking prowess, pace, power, vision, forethought, defensively strong and lethal in attack – he had them all.
Take a look at this tribute to see just a few glorious moments from his career:
For younger fans of the game, the nearest comparison you can make is someone with the magnitude of Richie McCaw: a fierce competitor, a joy to watch, a natural leader and a role model off the pitch.
Gareth’s career ended as it started: a Five Nations Championship game against France. However, as befitting a man of his stature, Edwards ended his career with a 16-7 win at home at his beloved Arms Park in Cardiff.
One cannot help but be jealous of those older fans that got the chance to see the great man in action in the flesh, but we can only hope that another player of his immense talent will someday emerge and take the world of rugby by storm yet again.
But thank you, Sir Gareth, for some of the greatest moments this game has ever seen.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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