Pivac Told To Reset And Improve Wales In Autumn Nations Cup
Wayne Pivac has outlined where he wants to take Wales. The Welsh Rugby Union trusts the national coach for now.
Pivac is trying to avoid a sixth straight defeat for Wales for the first time since 2013 when the team plays Ireland on Friday at Lansdowne Road to open the new Autumn Nations Cup.
The losing streak starkly contrasts last year when Wales enjoyed a record 14 wins in a row, swept the Six Nations, and reached the Rugby World Cup semifinals in Japan.
This year, under new management, the team has struggled to adapt to new strategies.
The scrum has buckled at key moments but Wales has mainly suffered at breakdowns. Failing to retain possession, conceding penalties and free kicks, and earning few turnovers off the opposition have prevented Wales from building phases and playing with speed or tempo. Too often, ball carriers have been isolated.
The lost in the Six Nations to Ireland by 10, France by four, England by three, and Scotland by four, mixed with a warmup loss to France in Paris last month when rugby resumed in the northern hemisphere.
Pivac was appointed as coach 14 months before he took up the job a year ago, and last week Wales CEO Steve Phillips gave the coach his support.
Phillips said some of the pressure (on Pivac) on results necessarily abates because Wales has a top four seeding for the 2023 Rugby World Cup based on the rankings in January, before the pandemic. This week its ranked eighth.
Phillips added a line has been drawn under the Six Nations, in which Wales’ title defense collapsed to fifth place, and the team must reset and improve in the Autumn Nations Cup.
In a warning to Pivac, the CEO said, We will be striving for significant improvements in both performances and results in the cup to ensure we realize our full potential and deliver” in the Six Nations next year.
Pivac has had to reset with tumult among his staff. Former captain Sam Warburton quit last month as a breakdown coach, and was replaced by another great, Gethin Jenkins. Jenkins has taken on more coaching of the defence this week after Byron Hayward was sacked by Pivac, after both originally said it was a mutual decision.
Wales has conceded 16 tries in the five-match losing run, and Hayward’s exit after a year underscores the quality of Shaun Edwards, who was Warren Gatland’s longtime defence coach and preferred a year ago to move to France to assist Fabien Galthie.
Pivac has remained upbeat this week, dismissed outside suggestions of player dissent, and said the players have showed energy and good vibes. Training has “been a massive step up from where weve been.
We believe we can win whenever we take the field, against any opposition, Pivac said. The fact that we haven’t done that in a series of games is not something we’re comfortable with.
Pivac picked the same starting XV that met Scotland, including flanker Justin Tipuric, who was a late withdrawal because of sickness. Uncapped Bristol flyhalf Callum Sheedy is on the bench after Rhys Patchell was injured.
Ireland has an experimental look, with 10 changes after its Six Nations title bid was clipped in Paris. There’s debuts for wing James Lowe and probably for reserve flyhalf Billy Burns, and first test starts for hooker Ronan Kelleher and scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park.
Coach Andy Farrell has already given debuts to seven players this year, and said, We might use more. We could use more.
England and Georgia are in the same group as Ireland and Wales.
Ireland: Jacob Stockdale, Hugo Keenan, Chris Farrell, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe, Jonathan Sexton (captain), Jamison Gibson-Park; Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Peter OMahony, James Ryan, Iain Henderson, Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher, Cian Healy. Reserves: Dave Heffernan, Ed Byrne, Finlay Bealham, Quinn Roux, Will Connors, Conor Murray, Billy Burns, Keith Earls.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies, Owen Watkin, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Taulupe Faletau, Justin Tipuric, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Will Rowlands, Tomas Francis, Ryan Elias, Rhys Carre. Reserves: Elliot Dee, Wyn Jones, Samson Lee, Jake Ball, Aaron Wainwright, Lloyd Williams, Callum Sheedy, George North.
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