Rugby League legend Shaun Edwards has gone back to his childhood as a supporter of the game from the terraces and he couldn’t be happier.
The most decorated player in the game is enjoying every minute of his time as a fan of Super League leaders Catalans Dragons after moving to live in the south of France in his new role as defence coach for the French rugby union team.
Back to the terraces
“It’s great being a fan again,” Edwards told League Express.
“No pressure, no expectations, just 80 minutes of brilliant Rugby League; we love it.
“I try to have a little chat with the French supporters, but my wife and I spend most of the game chasing our daughters around the stadium.
“The girls don’t watch much of the rugby, but there’s such a wonderful family atmosphere in the ground, with many children to play with, that they love coming to games.
“It’s like a lovely evening out with the family and at the same time 80 minutes of full-throttle action on the pitch. It’s great!”
Edwards wears his flat cap to as many home games in Perpignan as he can and he fits in perfectly with the berets and baguettes at Stade Gilbert Brutus.
“It’s a great atmosphere; what I can sense is a lot of fans who are very proud of their team and so they should be, because the challenges that Catalans have faced, with extra travelling because of Covid and all of the other demands physically and financially on the club, it’s almost a miracle that they have won the League Leaders’ Shield.
“And it’s good to be sitting among French supporters and watching the way in which they are appreciating their team’s efforts. It is a joy to see.
“Don’t forget, it’s still a very young club and all of this success is new to supporters, so there is such a positive attitude in the stadium.
“And let’s hope we have another new club very soon in Super League in Toulouse Olympique.
“I’m loving my time as a fan on the terraces in Perpignan and can’t wait for there to be a derby with Toulouse.”
Edwards says the most impressive part of Catalans’ success so far this season is the way in which the team refuses to be beaten.
“Often they have been behind in games and found a way to win. The endurance and the never-say-die attitude of the players and coaching staff is there for all to see.
“I liken it to Manchester United under Alex Ferguson, when they always seemed to go behind and find a way to win with a couple of late goals.
“It’s a special quality, and while it might be frustrating for supporters early on, if you can finish games strongly you’re in the right place.”
Edwards isn’t alone in his appetite for action at the Brutus. He was spotted alongside former Wigan and Great Britain team-mate Andy Gregory last week among the blood and gold flags in the Bonzoms Stand.
“It was good to have Andy here for the Leigh game. He was here with his wife on holiday in northern Spain and I spotted him walking around the stadium, so we sat together to watch the game.
“He loved the atmosphere and he was very impressed with the Dragons, the size and shape of the players and the way they performed. Nobody knows the game more than him.
“Andy was a special, special talent, the greatest exponent of the delayed pass, either short or long, that I have ever seen in Rugby League or union.
“It takes some nuts to hang onto that ball and time your pass to perfection; you’ve got to be very brave.”
Another brave character at the Brutus is Dragons’ President Bernard Guasch, according to Edwards.
“It must be very satisfying for the club’s President and the directors and sponsors to see success coming, after all of the investment and hard work in creating the club,” says Edwards.
“I do hope everyone in Perpignan is buying Mr Guasch’s sausages and they are flying off the shelves like they should be.
“It’s great to see a bloke who has backed Rugby League to the hilt; he has been a player and a supporter and he has ploughed his own money into creating this club. How satisfying must it be for him and his directors now to see the wins coming and hopefully the trophies too.”
Shaun will be too busy plotting trophy success for France XV to attend the France XIII clash against England at Stade Brutus on October 23rd, but he believes efforts by Catalans and Toulouse are beginning to pay off for the French national Rugby League side.
“I won’t be at the League international because we will be in training camp preparing to face Argentina, Georgia and then the All Blacks, which is obviously a huge game for us,” says Edwards.
“But it would be good to see the French Rugby League side competitive against England and I think it is coming, thanks to the great work at the Dragons, which will pay off in the long-term for young French League players.
Baptism of fire
“To improve yourself you have to play at a higher level to stretch yourself. The young players who have been brought into Catalans’ first team have now got experience of what it takes to play the game at the highest level in the northern hemisphere.
“You can’t buy that experience. You will only improve as a player when you face opponents who are better than you. You learn very quickly what it takes to be as good as them.
“To improve, you have to be made uncomfortable. Tor train and play at a higher level, virtually all of the time you have to feel uncomfortable. It isn’t easy.
“Trust me, when I was 17, playing for Wigan at Craven Park or Featherstone away during the miners’ strike when all of those lads were skint, it was very uncomfortable for everyone.
“These players needed to win to feed their families, so to say it was uncomfortable would be an understatement.
“I remember going to Hull KR once and they had a great team at the time who would make life very uncomfortable for you. That was the first of many adjustments to the shape of my nose and I also lost a few teeth that day.
“Young players learn lessons quickly when life is made uncomfortable for them.”
Coming together in Toulouse
Edwards, a former junior captain for England at union and League at the same time, is uniquely placed to appreciate the recent developments in Toulouse, where the relationship between the codes is growing.
“In rugby union terms, Toulouse is probably the biggest club in the world,” he says.
“It’s also one of the richest clubs in the world and bringing the name Toulouse back into Rugby League just brings a bit of magic with it.
“If they do get into Super League, I’m sure they will get great support. It’s a fabulous sports-mad city and it’s very exciting times.
“I think it’s absolutely brilliant to see Stade Toulousain and Toulouse Olympique working together and sharing the same stadium.”
Ancient divisions do not concern Edwards, who added, “I’m a rugby man, I love both codes, and what people probably don’t realise just how popular rugby is in the south of France.
“I haven’t seen many soccer balls since I’ve been here. We take the kids to the park and there’s no-one playing football, it’s all rugby.
“It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s rugby a Quinze (15) or Treize (13), the kids don’t care, they are just running around with a rugby ball in their hands.”
Taking it from here
So the future for French ‘rugby’ looks bright, but what of the future for nouveau-Frenchie Monsieur Edwards? He admits to having had teething troubles settling into a new life in France, but his family has now settled into the lifestyle and culture.
“It was difficult at first bringing daughters here who were aged just three and six years old. We lived in rented accommodation at first and the girls found it difficult settling at school and making friends.
“But we’ve bought our own place now and the girls are loving it; they’ve made many friends and it’s great to see them chatting away happily in French.
“Sometimes you just have to stick in and be adaptable and durable, a bit like a rugby player, and the rewards will come.
“I’ve got two and a half years left on my contract with French rugby union and I’m really enjoying helping the squad improve. We’re about to go the next stage now, which is the most difficult, and that is winning things.
“That is the challenge for us and we are working very hard to get to that level.
“It’s the same for Catalans too. So much hard work has gone into getting them where they are today; the next step is to win some trophies.
“As for my future, I’m not looking that far ahead. I’m loving my time down here working with the national team and at the same time I am getting a lot of pleasure from being a Rugby League supporter again.”
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