Shaun Edwards outlines why bin bags are key to play-off victory

SHAUN EDWARDS: In the star coach’s first column for Sportsmail, he outlines why bin bags are key to play-off glory and says that he would never bet against Saracens as they look to return from the wilderness to claim victory at Twickenham

  • Saracens meet Leicester in the season’s showpiece at Twickenham on Saturday
  • The France defensive coach says he would never bet against Saracens 
  • The game will be a tactical affair between Owen Farrell and George Ford 
  • He is back to coach the Barbarians at Twickenham against England on Sunday

It’s a pleasure to join Sportsmail’s team of rugby columnists.

Living out in France, where there’s a home World Cup next year, hopefully I can offer some insight about how the people out here are getting ready for the big occasion.

It’s going to be a fascinating period for rugby.

Shaun Edwards, the Barbarians defence coach on Sunday, has joined Sportsmail

When I’m back in London I always pick up the paper to read what Sir Clive Woodward, Danny Cipriani and Mike Brown have to say — but it’s MailOnline when I’m in Perpignan. Sir Clive invited me into camp for some unforgettable coaching experiences with England 18 years ago and I still have the tactics pamphlet he gave me.

I coached Danny at Wasps and he’s still a very good family friend and I have huge respect for Mike as he’s one of the most competitive players in the history of rugby.

I look forward to sharing my opinions alongside them.   

The legendary coach will return to England over Saturday and Sunday from his base in France

I love the Premiership play-offs. Coming from rugby league, it was all about the big Grand Final days.

When I won the first Premiership final with Wasps in 2003 — beating a fantastic Gloucester team — people were almost critical of us because we hadn’t finished first in the league.

The secret was all in the timing. Warren Gatland and I were used to play-offs, but it was completely new to English rugby union then.

Shaun Edwards coached Danny Cipriani at Wasps where they enjoyed a successful spell

We realised that it was all about peaking at the end of the season. That means making sacrifices in the earlier stages. Gats would always give players 10 days off during the season and we would manage loads in training.

The great Australian rugby league coach Wayne Bennett helped us a lot. I remember him telling me the team that would win the Grand Final would normally make their move six weeks before.

He’d had so much success that we worked on that principle. Six weeks before the final, we’d train wearing bin bags under our shirts because you knew the weather would be hotter in May time. Down the supermarket to pick up a few bags! They do similar in boxing. Funnily enough, when we beat Gloucester in that May 2003 final it was a scorching hot day and we were ready for it.

The France defensive coach will look to guide them to a victory in next year’s home World Cup

Looking at Saturday’s final, I would never bet against Saracens in a big game. I read interviews with Saracens players and you always hear about their spirit. They’ve been there and done it. They’ve had two years of pain, not being involved in those huge games. They have a big gameplan that they believe in because it’s worked for them in the past.

There will be a lot of kicking in the game because unfortunately that’s what happens when defences get better. When I watch the game as a fan, with a beer in the pub, I’m watching it for the tries rather than kicking. When I watch as a coach you look at things differently; I’ll be looking purely at the defensive side of the play and every detail.

Saracens are famous for their rush defence.

There are two types of rush defence. One strategy came through Brendan Venter at London Irish in the early 2000s — and they look mostly at the ball.

Shaun Edwards (left) celebrates winning the Heineken Cup with Wasps in 2004 at Twickenham

Myself and Gats had a slightly different style, where we’d look more at the formation of the attack. Both means have been very successful and Saracens’ style is more about concentrating on the ball and rushing up very quickly to make the tackle. Their defence is incredibly strong but don’t underestimate their all-round game.

The final will be worth the ticket price just to see Owen Farrell and George Ford against each other.

I’ve coached against both of them and when they’re together, they’re very hard to stop. Rugby’s a very physical and emotional game, but it’s also an intelligent game. It’s a thinking man’s game and that’s never more on display than it is with Ford and Farrell.

Marcus Smith will definitely reach their level, but they’ve got a few years on him in terms of tactics and experience. You don’t see many duels like this one.

Shaun Edwards has enjoyed various spells as assistant coach to Kiwi Warren Gatland

I’ve talked up Saracens but I’m sure Steve Borthwick, the Leicester coach, will have been studying their defeat by Toulon.

They were surprisingly dominated that night. He’ll have been picking up points from that and any team featuring Ellis Genge has a chance of winning.

I’m a huge admirer of his. It’s his last game for Tigers and he’ll be extremely motivated. I’m not sure Borthwick will have him running from full back like he did for England against France during the Six Nations, though!

He was only going to do one thing, wasn’t he? He wasn’t going to step and go or throw a dummy. We were more than happy to accept that challenge. You want characters in the sport and Genge is one of them. I would love to coach him.

There’s a saying that you’ve got to win one to lose one. It’s often true. If Leicester Tigers do lose then they have got every chance of coming back next year to win it.

The former Wasps head coach believes the battle between George Ford and Owen Farrell will be the decisive factor in the game at Twickenham

Shaun Edwards says that the tactical battle between the two fly-halfs is worth the ticket alone

I have the privilege of coaching the Barbarians this week and we can’t wait to take on England at Twickenham on Sunday.

We’ve got a lot of French internationals in the team — with a sprinkle of stardust from elsewhere — and we’re trying to treat it like a proper Test match. We want to win. Of course, Fabien Galthie has given the guys some time to relax. They’ve had a few drinks and enjoyed a trip to the wonderful palace in Monaco, where we were hosted by Prince Albert, but we’ve trained hard.

There’s 50,000 people coming on Sunday and we don’t want to disrespect them. We want to honour the late Phil Bennett in this match. A real Barbarians legend. That right-foot step was amazing and so was his humility.

The former Wales assistant coach has not won at Twickenham since his side’s famous World Cup victory there in 2015

We’ve watched some of his old clips and we want to show some of that traditional, Barbarians running style. We take risks in a France jersey and Sunday will be no different.

England are always difficult to play against and I’ve not won at Twickenham since the 2015 World Cup. Hopefully that will change.

My son, James Small-Edwards, was running for councillor in Bayswater recently and I was back to help out with the door knocking.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous as the night before the vote but he won it. He’s only 25 and I was so proud.

A load of his mates came to help him with the campaigning and I’m hoping to get them all tickets as a thank you. Hopefully it’s a day to remember!

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