Former policeman back on right beat with Wales turnaround
SPOTLIGHT: Wayne Pivac experienced more than most head coaches in his first year in charge of Wales before winning the Six Nations.
Pivac’s men clinched the title, six months after finishing fifth in the table with only a home win over Italy, following France’s defeat to Scotland in Paris on Friday.
The 58-year-old took over after the 2019 Rugby World Cup, succeeding fellow Kiwi Warren Gatland, who took Wales to three tournament clean sweeps in a trophy-laden 12-year reign.
Pivac’s appointment at the Principality Stadium was announced more than 14 months before his first game, a friendly win over Gatland’s Barbarians.
Former police officer Pivac originally came to Wales in 2014 to lead the Scarlets after spells at the helm of Auckland, Fiji and North Harbour.
His first two campaigns at Parc y Scarlets failed to impress with an alleged altercation with travelling supporters in Treviso and a #PivacOut hashtag circulating on social media.
In his third season the former loose forward guided the Welsh side to the Pro12 title, their first trophy since 2004.
A year later they reached a European Champions Cup semifinal and then a Pro14 final, but lost both to Leinster in the space of a month.
“It took me a while to get that machine rolling, and ultimately we had some success. People will always have their opinions, and rightly so,” Pivac said last week.
“They support the team and put a lot of faith in what we do. So if things don’t go well, questions get asked.
“I’m not bothered by that in the slightest When I watch other sports I’m probably quite critical as well. It’s human nature isn’t it?”
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) March 26, 2021
‘No lack of hard work’
His expansive style of play caught the eye of the Welsh Rugby Union with players such as prop Wyn Jones, centre Hadleigh Parkes and loose forward Tadgh Beirne starring consistently to earn their first Test caps.
In Pivac’s last campaign before leaving the region in 2019 they missed out on the knockout stages in both the Pro14 and Europe, while the coach began preparing for his next position with trips to watch Wales in the Six Nations.
Pivac won his first international game against the BaaBaas before hammering Italy in his opening Six Nations fixture, but four close losses followed as he attempted to bed in an expansive style with a squad used to Gatland’s tighter tactics.
The closing Six Nations loss to Scotland in October was followed by a five-match campaign, in which Wales lost to France, England and Ireland and beat only Italy and Georgia.
Pivac ended his maiden 12 months in charge with seven defeats.
Pivac also lost two coaches last year.
Sam Warburton, a former Wales captain, who had been the breakdown specialist, resigned after the Six Nations.
Defence coach Byron Hayward quit five days before the loss to Ireland in November.
Reports claimed Pivac had an option to leave his four-year contract early in 2021 and the #PivacOut critics returned.
“As I said throughout the autumn, I would be more concerned if it wasn’t a happy camp,” Pivac said this week.
“You look at the environment that you have off the field and that speaks volumes of where the team is at. It wasn’t for a lack of hard work.
“There were a lot of circumstances which we put in place which didn’t help the result. We had a big picture in mind which was the 2023 Rugby World Cup,” he added.
Pivac’s fortunes changed with this year’s Six Nations.
Red cards to Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony and Scotland’s Zander Fagerson played their role in victories to start the season.
A refereeing decision and quick thinking from flyhalf Dan Biggar helped Wales claim a record win over England before a clinical rout over Italy.
The spring-time success has also put Pivac’s Wales among the frontrunners to return to the French capital in two years’ time in search of a maiden World Cup triumph.