Edwards backtracks over All Blacks comment
As pressure mounts on Wales, testy defence coach Shaun Edwards has attempted to backtrack on statements that have riled the All Blacks.
Edwards provided a mirror for the mood of the under siege Welsh rugby team yesterday when he fired up at a press conference in Cardiff.
After being told that Steve Hansen's men were offended by reports that he said All Blacks were "there for the taking" during last year's World Cup final, Edwards quickly claimed his controversial message was misconstrued, despite it being clearly reported on the official Six Nations competition website at the time before being extensively reported around the world.
"No, I said we had a chance against them. I didn't say we would beat them. I was misquoted," Edwards claimed. "I said we had a chance to beat them because they had a lot of star players not available. They were down to their third-choice flyhalf."
Made aware that the All Blacks had taken his comments personally, regarded them as arrogant and that earlier this week Hansen had challenged Wales to back up those sentiments, Edwards appeared increasingly agitated.
"Steve Hansen is not playing is he?" the 46-year-old shot back with a stern stare.
"Any sporting contest you always have a chance. It's the same on Saturday."
The final straw came when Edwards was pressed further and asked if he was trying to distance himself from the comments.
"Are you trying to put words in my mouth? Yes, you are. I was misquoted. I said if we made the Rugby World Cup final and we had a full strength team we would have had a chance to beat New Zealand because they were drastically understrength."
Edwards then said that, 13 months on from the World Cup, Wales are anything but confident of rolling the world champions for the first time since 1953 at Millennium Stadium on Sunday morning (NZT).
"The All Blacks are in better form now than they were going into the World Cup final because they've got a settled team, they've not got as many injuries as they had at that time, and Richie McCaw looks in great shape, as opposed to having a long-term injury," he said.
No doubt Edwards' tension was only heightened when, just a few hours earlier, former Welsh captain Gareth Thomas joined the deafening chorus of condemnation after five straight losses.
Not long after, Welsh great Barry John announced he feared Welsh rugby had slipped into despair and disarray, Thomas accused some players of a "pure lack of effort" in last week's loss to Samoa and challenged senior members of the Grand Slam champions to "stand up to be counted".
"When did he say that? If he can show me specifics of the game then I will take a look at it and assess things but I wouldn't agree with that," Edwards said.
This sort of harsh criticism is nothing new in the valleys where, like New Zealand, each loss is treated in the same manner as a national tragedy.
Pressure can go one of two ways. If Edwards can emulate this passionate denial in his pre-match speech, it might be enough to restore Welsh pride.
After being booed off their home pitch last weekend, Welsh players are in desperate need of inspiration and Edwards, a nine-time Challenge Cup winner during his illustrious rugby league career with Wigan, will be hoping to provide just that.
"The fans are expecting a lot from us . . . for us to lose those two games I don't blame the fans for booing us," Welsh wing Alex Cuthbert said, referring to consecutive losses to Argentina and Samoa.
Fullback Leigh Halfpenny expected returning coach Warren Gatland, who is said to be feared by his players, to issue some blunt messages this week.
"It's about being honest as a squad," he said. "Things will be said. It wasn't acceptable for us lose on Friday night [to Samoa]. There will be harsh words said to make sure we put it right. People aren't giving us a chance of winning."