Pivac urges young Wales side to embrace their opportunity

Wayne Pivac and Dan Biggar 26/1/2022
Wayne Pivac has one main message for his young and inexperienced Wales squad as they prepare to defend their Guinness Six Nations title: “What an opportunity!”

Wayne Pivac has one main message for his young and inexperienced Wales squad as they prepare to defend their Guinness Six Nations title: “What an opportunity!”

The reigning champions will be without at least 680 caps worth of experience for this year’s Championship, including the absence of talismanic captain Alun Wyn Jones.

George North, Leigh Halfpenny, Ken Owens, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau are also among the high-profile names who are missing from the squad due to injury.

Dan Biggar will instead lead a team featuring three uncapped players in Dewi Lake, Jac Morgan and James Ratti along with a host of players either making their Championship debuts or still in the very early stages of their international careers.

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And while Pivac acknowledged the challenge that awaits his side, the Wales head coach has urged his players to step up and grasp their opportunity with both hands.

“Talking about the lack of experience in the squad, I think in the French game [in 2021] we had over 1,000 caps and we’ve lost 680 of them and that is a huge amount,” he said.

“We talked on Monday about players being good listeners, I think the young players have to listen to the likes of Dan and those players that have had multiple campaigns.

“They know the rigours of the Champ​ionship, they know how tough it can be at times and also how rewarding it can be when you get things right and the perseverance and hard work pays off.

“Listening is a big part of what some of these younger guys are going to have to do and then they have to apply themselves and take that into training and the game if they do get minutes.

“It’s about developing as players in a short space of time so being able to take information on board is important and being able to transfer that under pressure is the big challenge.

2022 Guinness Six Nations is launched

“We’re going to expose them in training to an intensity that they are not used to and they need that because Test matches are played at a greater intensity than club rugby.

“The collisions are bigger, there’s more of them often and with the crowds back in, that’s something different from last year as well, so a lot of younger guys who have played 10-15 Test matches hadn’t played in front of crowd in a Welsh jersey before the autumn.

“It’s a pretty inexperienced group in terms of the Six Nations but what an opportunity.”

That said, Pivac refused to rule out another Lazarus-style comeback from Jones, Test rugby’s most-capped player and a five-time Championship winner with Wales including three Grand Slams.

The 36-year-old stunned the world last summer when he recovered from a dislocated shoulder to start all three Tests for The British & Irish Lions against South Africa.

But another shoulder injury sustained against New Zealand in the autumn has kept him on the sidelines once again, with Biggar stepping in to fill the significant void left by the captain.

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However, Pivac said he would not be surprised if Jones defied the odds once again to make an appearance at some point during the Championship during Wednesday’s launch.

“Never say never. I probably wouldn’t enter into the conversation if it was anyone else to be quite honest but the guy has broken so many records,” said Pivac when asked about Jones.

“I honestly say that I would never say never but it’ll be a long shot, let’s just say that, but Alun Wyn is working incredibly hard behind the scenes to get himself in the best shape possible to be as ready as quickly as he can for Ospreys or Wales.”

Wales face Ireland in the opening game of the Championship in Dublin, pitting Biggar against opposite number and fellow captain Johnny Sexton – having locked horns with each other for club and country for more than a decade and been teammates on the 2017 Lions’ tour – a challenge the 95-cap fly-half is relishing.

“The respect for Johnny has been there from day one. The way he came into the Ireland and Leinster team and the success he’s had with both it’s very difficult not to respect him – even if you don’t like him,” said Biggar.

“But, from my end, I got on really, really well with him in 2017 and I’ve just kept in touch with him every now and again on milestones, achievements and bits and pieces like that.

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“You learn a lot more about people outside of a rugby environment and I found Johnny a really good person to get on with. I think we’re similar characters as well.

“We demand a lot of ourselves, a lot of others around us and we have a real desire to scrap for everything and win as much as we can so there’s a lot of similarities between the two of us.

“I think that shows in the respect we have for each other. He’s operating at an extremely high level at a decent age. He’s been around the block a fair few times and he’s obviously going to be key to getting Ireland going. It’s a huge task for us first up.

“If we sit off him and allow him to play and dictate play then we’ll be in trouble. ​So, it’s about making sure we get on the front foot as much as we can and make his life as difficult as possible.”