Preview: Wales v Barbarians

There is something rather satisfying about Wayne Pivac’s first game in charge of Wales coming against the man he succeeded in the role.

There is something rather satisfying about Wayne Pivac’s first game in charge of Wales coming against the man he succeeded in the role.

Warren Gatland will have the chance to go up against the team he coached for a dozen years, including to three Grand Slams, when he leads the Barbarians against Wales at Principality Stadium on Saturday.

For Pivac, while this is an uncapped international, it gives him the perfect opportunity to begin his preparations for the 2020 Guinness Six Nations.

Picking solely from the four Welsh regions, Pivac has given a first Wales appearance to Johnny McNicholl, who he previously coached at the Scarlets, with Justin Tipuric handed the captaincy in the absence of Alun Wyn Jones.

Elsewhere Jarrod Evans gets the nod at fly-half alongside Cardiff Blues half-back partner Tomos Williams, while Owen Watkin starts in the centres with Jonathan Davies out injured.

On the bench, Rob Evans and Sam Davies are back in the Wales fold, as is Ollie Griffiths after his return from a serious knee injury.

The Barbarians, meanwhile, round out their three-game tour after a narrow defeat to Fiji and a big win in Brazil.

Former Ireland hooker Rory Best, who led them to the Grand Slam in 2018, will captain the side in what is set to be his final game of rugby.

Wales coach Wayne Pivac: “We are looking at players who can fit into the style of game we want to play moving along.

“The strength of young Jarrod’s (Evans’) game is his running. He’s got other parts of his game that he’s working on.

“Johnny brings a lot of X-factor. He’s got a high work-rate and gets around the park, so it will be interesting to see how he goes in this particular match.

“We are going to be really focused on trying to get as much as we can out of the game and the week so we hit the ground running in the Guinness Six Nations, a week advanced of where we would have been.

“All the introductions are out of the way, we’re starting to learn more about each other and some of the stuff the coaches are starting to put in their various areas is getting a warm reception. So, so far, so good.”

Barbarians and former Wales head coach Warren Gatland: “I have enjoyed this week, working with players and coaches for the first time, and it is an opportunity for me to say thank you to the Welsh fans and public for 12 brilliant, amazing years.

“The place has grown on me and I do not think I can lose either way on Saturday, but we are here to play some rugby and give a good performance. The competitive side is coming out of me now and it is about getting ourselves right and winning.”

It is a match-up we have seen numerous times before, but as Ken Owens and Rory Best prepare to face off for the final time, where else could we look? Owens has been one of Pivac’s chief lieutenants at the Scarlets, and will have an important role in the transition of the new coach. He goes up against Best, who called time on his international career after the World Cup, and has clearly enjoyed his time with the Barbarians, even kicking a conversion in the win over Brazil.

Wales: 15. Leigh Halfpenny, 14. Johnny McNicholl, 13. Owen Watkin, 12. Hadleigh Parkes, 11. Josh Adams, 10. Jarrod Evans, 9. Tomos Williams, 1. Wyn Jones, 2. Ken Owens, 3. Dillon Lewis, 4. Jake Ball, 5. Adam Beard, 6. Aaron Shingler, 7. Justin Tipuric (c), 8. Aaron Wainwright

Replacements: 16. Elliot Dee, 17. Rob Evans, 18. Leon Brown, 19. Seb Davies, 20. Ollie Griffiths, 21. Gareth Davies, 22. Sam Davies, 23. Owen Lane

Barbarians: 15. Shaun Stevenson, 14. Dillyn Leyds, 13. Mathieu Bastareaud, 12. Andre Esterhuizen, 11. Cornal Hendricks, 10. Curwin Bosch, 9. Bryn Hall, 1. Campese Ma’afu, 2. Rory Best (c), 3. Wiehahn Herbst, 4. Luke Jones, 5. Tyler Ardron, 6. Pete Samu, 7. Marco van Staden, 8. Josh Strauss

Replacements: 16. Schalk Brits, 17. Craig Millar, 18. Hencus van Wyk, 19. George Biagi, 20. Angus Cottrell, 21. Jano Vermaak, 22. Billy Meakes, 23. Matt Duffie