By Craig Muncey
Rated by many as the greatest rugby union player of all-time, Edwards as a player would have been great in any generation of this great game. He was quick, strong as an ox, a try-scoring threat from all over the field, fantastic service to his outside backs and also an excellent kicking game. He indeed was a special player.
Edwards or to give him his full title and name, Sir Gareth Owen Edwards was born on the 12th July 1947 in the Welsh village of Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen which is around five miles from it’s the nearest town which is Ammanford, Carmarthenshire. Edwards was a natural at sports and excelled in athletics, gymnastics, football (he signed as a sixteen-year-old for Swansea Town as it was known at the time) and of course rugby union.
Through his sporting talents, he won a scholarship to the famous Millfield School in Somerset. The school has produced many sporting stars over the years, one of its claims to fame is since 1956 at least one athlete that has attended the school through the years has participated at the summer Olympics, quite an achievement. There is no doubt that with Gareth Edwards they did indeed have an extraordinary talent to help to nurture.
At the very start of his senior career, Edwards attended trials for Cardiff RFC and ended up playing for Cardiff Athletic at Briton Ferry on September 1966, where he scored two tries. Very quickly after this, he made his debut for Cardiff RFC against Coventry. Five months later and after only six games for Cardiff, Edwards aged nineteen, made his debut for his beloved country, Wales against France in Paris which ended in defeat to the eventual winners of that year’s championship. At the age of twenty, Edwards became the youngest ever captain of Wales. His first-ever game as captain for his country was against Scotland in 1968, and he eventually captained Wales thirteen times in his international career which spanned eleven years.
Edwards finished his international career with Wales in 1978 against the team where his global journey had started, France. This time though he and Wales were victorious, which meat in his final international game, Wales secured the Grand Slam the third consecutive Triple Crown in a row and the championship. In his Welsh career, Edwards and Wales won the Championship seven times including three Grand Slams.
Edwards was fortunate to play with some great rugby players including his main two half-back partners in his career in Barry John and Phil Bennett, but this should not take any shine of the achievements that Edwards attained. He ended up with fifty-three caps and scored twenty tries, which at the time was a try-scoring record for Wales which stood for many years.
In addition to representing Wales, he also made ten test appearances for the British and Irish Lions in 1971 and 1974 tours of New Zealand and South Africa respectively. His performances on those tours elevated him to high statuses as fans of New Zealand, and South Africa also could also see just how good this man was. Those Lions teams were phenomenal, two series victories against rugby giants is some achievement with players on their ranks such as JPR Williams, Gerald Davies, Barry John, Phil Bennett, Graham Price, Willie John McBride, Mervyn Davies and Fergus Slattery just to name a few, but Edwards and his ability shone so brightly amongst those beacons of rugby men.
The great man also played for the Barbarians and in 1973 played for the Barbarians against the touring New Zealand side. A game which is thought by many to be the greatest rugby union game ever played. Edwards yet again played a starring role, scoring one of if not the most magnificent try of all-time in a move that went the whole length of the pitch. Edwards, taking the final pass at full speed and diving in the corner with the legendary commentator, Cliff Morgan’s admiration of him and the try flowing through with the words and pitch he used. Edwards scored many a great try, an individual effort against Scotland in 1972 also a very special effort.
For Cardiff RFC, Edwards played from 1966 through to 1978 playing 195 times scoring 67 times playing with many great players. Edwards is fondly remembered as a rugby player right across the world and none more so than in Cardiff, where he played his whole club career, and there is a sculpture rightfully erected in one of the shopping centres in Cardiff as a reminder of this great man.
Sir Gareth was knighted in 2015 for his services to sport and various charities which he has played prominent roles in. In 2019 he stepped down as his role as a director for Cardiff Blues, a position he had been in for 22 years, I am sure he will still be at each of the Cardiff Blues games moving forward as his love for rugby and Cardiff is evident for all to see.
There have been many great scrum-halves through the years, Sid Going (who Edwards stated was his most challenging opponent), Nick Farr-Jones, David Loveridge, George Gregan, Joost Van Der Westhuizen, Aaron Smith and Terry Holmes just to name a few, but many say and I do not disagree that Gareth Owen Edwards was the greatest ever to grace a rugby field.