Wayne Pivac has hailed the returning Josh Navidi as ‘an extraordinary player’ and backed the flanker to play a big part in Wales’ 2021 Guinness Six Nations campaign.
The 30-year-old made his eagerly-awaited comeback for Cardiff Blues last Friday night having not featured since suffering concussion in an internal training match in August.
The knock kept him out of Wales’ autumn fixtures but his return is well timed as Pivac’s side look to improve on last year’s fifth-placed finish.
The head coach is not concerned about Navidi’s relative lack of game time – he played the final 26 minutes of Blues’ 13-10 win against Scarlets, who welcomed back hooker Ken Owens in the same fixture – and cited last year’s Championship clash at Twickenham as evidence of the back-rower’s durability.
“He came back to play against England in the last Guinness Six Nations having been out for a number of weeks and we expected him to play 50 or 60 (minutes),” Pivac said at the Championship’s virtual launch.
“But he was playing so well that we kept him on and he ended up playing well over the 80 minutes. He’s an extraordinary player and not many people can do that.
“Josh has a huge engine and can drive himself through that pain barrier that players have to go through.
“It’s great to have him back, albeit with half a game under his belt.
“He’s doing a lot of work in training, as are Ken Owens and others who have been out of the game for a bit.”
Navidi and Owens are not the only key figures eyeing up a return to the Welsh pack, with captain Alun Wyn Jones confirming this week that he is on track to lead the team out in their opener against Ireland in Cardiff on February 7.
“The work that goes on behind the scenes is immense,” Pivac said. “We have special people who look after our players in terms of conditioning.
“Alun Wyn will testify to the amount of work he’s been doing in the past eight weeks and looking at him in training in the first couple of days, you wouldn’t think he’s been out for too long at all.
“Class players and big-game players can generally step up to the plate, the question is how long they will go for across the 80 minutes.”
Pivac went on to outline his belief that the depth of talent at his disposal will allow the squad to deal with any injuries which may occur in this year’s Championship.
Navidi’s fellow Cardiff Blues back-rowers Shane Lewis-Hughes and James Botham were both handed international debuts in the Autumn Nations Cup but have been left out of the 36-man squad, while Rhys Webb responded to his omission with two tries for Ospreys on Sunday.
“That’s the reaction we are looking for as those are the performances we are after week in, week out,” he said.
“Those boys playing well is pleasing to see. It’s an indication to us that if we do get bumps, we have players in form who can come in and add to the environment.”