Shaun Edwards will not be a part of the British and Irish Lions coaching team on their tour of Australia next year.
Warren Gatland has taken the shock decision not to include him despite the pair enjoying success together at club level as well as winning two grand slams with Wales.
Gatland, the head coach of the Lions, is known for not flinching from making tough decisions, but the omission of Edwards from the set-up for the three-Test tour of Australia, which will officially be announced in Scotland , is a considerable surprise.
Edwards, who was the head coach at Wasps during Gatland's spell at the club as director of rugby between 2002 and 2005 and has been Wales's defence coach under the New Zealander since the beginning of 2008, had until the end of last month looked certain to be in Australia having been part of the Lions' management team on their previous tour of South Africa in 2009.
Gatland has been given a free hand by the Lions committee to choose the coaches he will work with and looked to have settled on Edwards and the England duo Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree as his back-up triumvirate. Rob Howley, who was the attack coach in South Africa, is Wales's interim coach with Gatland taking a sabbatical until the start of next season. Wales are in Japan next summer and the Welsh Rugby Union indicated it wanted Howley to remain with the national squad. But it is Howley who will be going to Australia and Edwards who will be in Asia after a late change of mind by Gatland for reasons he will explain when he introduces his coaching team in Edinburgh.
There was a feeling that Edwards and Farrell, who know each other from their rugby league days with Wigan, filled similar roles and that a specialist attack coach was needed. With Gatland saying when he was unveiled as the head coach last September that he wanted to have an element of continuity from 2009 as well as some freshness, with Rowntree making his second successive tour as the scrummaging coach it came down to a straight choice between Howley and Edwards.
Gatland will only announce three coaches this week. He wants a small, close-knit team and at this stage he is not planning to appoint a kicking coach, believing that responsibility should be part of Farrell's remit. The Lions will have little time to prepare for the tour with the opening match, against the Barbarians in Hong Kong, coming only a week after the end of the season in Britain and on the day the Top 14 play-off final is held in France.
Gatland's decision will be a bitter disappointment for Edwards who said at the end of the tour of South Africa that it had been the greatest experience of his coaching career, if also one of the most frustrating given that a closely fought series was edged by the Springboks. "It does my head in even now. It will haunt me until my dying day that we didn't win," he said in an interview last year.
Edwards signed a new contract with Wales a year ago that will take him beyond the 2015 World Cup. Gatland's deal with Wales runs out at the end of the tournament and it remains to be seen how Edwards's omission from the coaching team for Australia impacts on what has been one of the most successful partnerships in the professional era.
Some in Wales fear that Gatland, who took charge of Wales's final two matches of a disappointing autumn series this year, will not return after the Lions tour, but he has given no indication that he will not stick to his contract.
Unless Wales's form improves in the Six Nations – they have lost their last seven internationals – he will have other tough decisions to take when it comes to deciding his 35-strong playing squad.
None will be as difficult as telling Edwards, who said after returning home from South Africa in 2009 that he would like nothing more than to be part of the 2013 effort in Australia, that he would not be going on the tour.
The last time the Lions were in Australia was in 2001, the only other occasion when the head coach was a New Zealander. The tourists won the first Test but lost the series 2-1.
Graham Henry was then also in charge of Wales, but he returned from the tour bruised and scarred, having to work again with players he had overlooked for the Test team and his relations with them never recovered. Less than six months later he was on his way back to New Zealand and the WRU is desperately hoping that history does not repeat itself.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Uncle Saiful