Sir Gareth Edwards: South Africa’s 14 changes disrespect Wales, says Lions great

Sir Gareth Edwards: South Africa's 14 changes disrespect Wales, says Lions great

Sir Gareth Edwards was part of the British and Irish Lions’ unbeaten tour of South Africa in 1974

South Africa have “disrespected” Wales by making 14 changes for Saturday’s second Test, according to legendary former scrum-half Sir Gareth Edwards.

Edwards says South Africa will still be “tough” opponents but fears their many changes will devalue the contest.

“If there had been five or six changes, you would maybe have raised an eyebrow. But 14 changes? It’s overwhelming,” said the British and Irish Lions great.

“I don’t think it shows respect for Wales and, looking logically, there is only one way to view it and that’s to give them a good tonking, as they say.

“I suppose the only way they [South Africa] can justify it is if they win. I think it shows a little bit of disrespect.

“It doesn’t matter that it’s Wales. In these days, everyone is building towards World Cups so they have a different outlook.

“Yes, make changes but not that many. I’m a bit disappointed because I was looking forward to seeing Wales take on these guys again.”

Having finished fifth in this year’s Six Nations, Wales were expected to be comprehensively beaten in the first of their three Tests against the world champions last Saturday.

However, Wayne Pivac’s rejuvenated side led for long periods during an exhilarating encounter in Pretoria before Damian Willemse’s last-minute penalty left Wales still searching for their first away win against South Africa.

On Tuesday, Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber announced an almost entirely new team for the second Test in Bloemfontein, with six uncapped players in the matchday squad.

Nienaber insisted he was not disrespecting Wales with his selection but Edwards believes the home side are devaluing the series by making so many changes.

“I think it does [devalue it], to an extent. There is a lot at stake but I think it takes a bit of an edge out of it,” said Edwards, who was voted the greatest player of all time in a poll of international rugby players conducted in 2003 by Rugby World magazine.

“I am not going to suggest for one minute that I know all that is right and wrong about the modern game, except that it is a pretty physically demanding set-up, and it is important that you do [make changes] but there are ways and means of changing. I think it has stunned a lot of people.

“Take it from me, any side I’ve played against in a green and gold jersey, you are going to have to give respect to.

“It’s not going to be easy, far from it, second team or not. They’ll be a tough, tough side.

“I think it is great motivation for Wales. First and foremost, beat them.

“I think they [Wales players] are probably talking to each other and saying ‘right boys, that’s what they think of us’.

“It is a great opportunity to beat them and say ‘thank you very much for picking that team’.”

Commemorating Edwards and ‘The Greatest Try’

Sir Gareth Edwards and artist Elin Sian Blake with the painting of Edwards scoring 'The Greatest Try' against New Zealand in 1973
Sir Gareth Edwards and artist Elin Sian Blake with the painting of Edwards scoring ‘The Greatest Try’ against New Zealand in 1973

Edwards was speaking at an event to unveil a painting of his iconic try for the Barbarians in their victory over New Zealand in 1973.

The try is widely regarded as the greatest in rugby union history and, although video clips of it have been replayed countlessly since that famous day in Cardiff, remarkably there are no photographs of the score.

So to celebrate Edwards’ 75th birthday on 12 July – and with next January marking 50 years since the try – artist Elin Sian Blake was commissioned to immortalise the moment with a painting.

Edwards’ try was the culmination of a mesmerising team move, started by an audacious, jinking run from his dear friend, the great Phil Bennett, who died last month aged 73.

“This was Phil’s moment. There was that momentous sidestep and Cliff Morgan’s commentary,” Edwards recalled.

“I would like to give some credit to Phil, as sad as it is that he’s not here in person. Without that start we wouldn’t be here.

“It’s given me the greatest pleasure to talk about the try all around the world. What I loved about the try was the improvisation and the decision-making not only on the ball, but off it. You don’t see much of that these days.

“There were lots of fabulous players involved in that game. There was some stupendous, wonderful improvised play.”

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