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Ex-Ireland player's frank assessment of Pivac's Wales: 'There's no fear playing them like in the past'

By Liam Heagney

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Wayne Pivac’s struggling Wales have been described by former Ireland winger Simon Zebo as a team that no longer instils fear in opposition like they used to when Shaun Edwards was their defence coach. The Welsh reached two World Cup semi-finals and won multiple Six Nations Grand Slam titles when Edwards was their defence specialist under the old Warren Gatland regime.

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However, having taken exception to only being offered a short-term deal on the new Pivac ticket, Edwards opted to join France following the departure of Gatland after last year’s World Cup in Japan.

That decision has deeply hurt Wales. Whereas France have enjoyed a marked improvement in 2020, finishing second to England in the recently completed Six Nations, Wales have lost five matches on the bounce and their championship loss to Scotland at Llanelli resulted in the sacking of Byron Hayward, Edwards’ successor as defence coach. 

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Wayne Pivac explains why he got rid of defence coach Byron Hayward
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Wayne Pivac explains why he got rid of defence coach Byron Hayward

Wales are now improvising in that area as they head to Dublin this Friday to take on Ireland in the opening round of the Autumn Nations Cup and while both Zebo and Jamie Roberts expect a better performance, they haven’t disguised their surprise with what is going on with the Welsh in the Pivac era.   

Appearing on the latest episode of RugbyPass Offload, ex-Irish back Zebo said about Wales: “Ireland are probably performing a little bit better, although they weren’t great against France. The improvements Ireland need to make wouldn’t be as great as the Welsh. 

“I don’t think they [Wales] are playing very well,” continued Zebo. “They seem to be quite lateral. They don’t seem to be playing with the physicality in defence as they used to under Shaun Edwards. It just doesn’t seem like the typical Welsh team.

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“There is no fear I’d imagine of playing them like there would have playing them in the past and you see their recent results, the form and confidence are probably a little bit down, but I’d expect them to put in a big performance.

“Playing in Dublin with no fans will be an unbelievable opportunity for them to get back to winning. I’d imagine they would be confident after Ireland’s performance against France but I’d still fancy Ireland to win. They will have a bit too much. Wales are still trying to find their new identity under Pivac.”

Ex-Wales midfielder Roberts added: “We are going to see a reaction from Wales. I don’t think many people will back them. The players will be hurting. There has been a change this week in the coaching set-up and the players will be desperate to go and put a performance in for the jersey.

“They were poor against Scotland. Do I think they can beat Ireland in Dublin? Yes. They have got to be at the top of their game, but I think we will see a big reaction from them. 

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“I was quite surprised they released Byron,” continued Roberts, referencing last Sunday’s coaching upheaval. “You make those appointments with a long-term plan in the back of your head and for them to cut ties with him after just one season in charge is quite a bold move. 

“I guess there is that acceptance from the Welsh public that they are going through a bit of a transition period. Not that the Test arena is forgiving in that way. People demand results straightaway and any change you expect to get up to pace quickly. 

I’m really surprised to see he has lost his job. I thought they would back him at least until the end of this season but defence is not going in the right direction. They are conceding far too many points and someone has to take the brunt of that. That is usually the defence coach.”

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Ex-Ireland player's frank assessment of Pivac's Wales: 'There's no fear playing them like in the past'

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