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Wayne Pivac given hospital pass

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The god-awful hospital pass Wayne Pivac just received and his likely course of treatment

Wayne Pivac is presumably no fan of roller-coasters, but he must have watched the World Cup as if strapped to the mother of all corkscrews. He will have been consumed by a mixture of pride, curiosity and latterly behind-his-fingers horror as a host of first-team players broke down under the relentless physical battering incurred playing seven games in less than six weeks.

The understated Kiwi will be unveiled to a crowd of over 50,000 at the Principality Stadium for a match against the Barbarians at the end of November knowing that the fixture is very much about Warren Gatland and his farewell to a side he coached for twelve years and on 125 occasions. Never will an opposing coach be given such a rapturous welcome by a habitually hostile crowd.

The former Wales coach has an autobiography out and is doing the media rounds so Pivac will hardly be able to escape the Gatland love-in in the coming weeks, but that could work in his favour by allowing him to go about his due diligence for the Six Nations relatively under the radar.

This fine-tooth combing will prioritise picking apart the wreckage of the World Cup’s demolition derby which has deprived him of half a first-choice backline. Liam Williams is out for three months with an ankle injury making him touch and go. Two-time Lion Jonathan Davies is likely out for the season, and potentially the summer tour to New Zealand, with a knee injury that was hardly helped by playing heavily strapped up in the World Cup semi-final and bronze medal play-off.

More worryingly, Leigh Halfpenny was pulled from selection due to concussive symptoms after an aerial assault in the kicking-fest against South Africa. It was his third head injury in less than a year, but Pivac has mentioned the full-back will be considered for the Barbarians game.

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At fly-half, too, there is also significant head-scratching to do. Gareth Anscombe is out for the season with an ACL injury and now Rhys Patchell, who was such an able deputy for Dan Biggar during the World Cup, has been laid low by a shoulder injury that will put him out for between twelve to 16 weeks. That could see him miss the first three rounds of the competition and needing to get back his match sharpness.

In among the glum medical bulletins, there are slithers of good news for Pivac in the pack. The highly-regarded Jonathan Humphreys, rated by Adam Jones as the finest forwards coach he worked under, will likely have the world-class Taulupe Faletau at his disposal.

The No8 would be a boon to any side in the world. Alongside him, Ellis Jenkins is closing in on a Christmas return to press his claims in a cluttered back row and Cory Hill, such a miss during the World Cup with an ankle issue, is said to be making good progress at the Dragons, with a return before Christmas mooted.

At tighthead, Dillon Lewis made huge leaps in the last six months, while Tomas Francis’ partial dislocation of the shoulder is expected to heal after Duane Vermeulen’s rhino-like charge ended his tournament and may have led Welsh selectors to hike up to Sale to run the rule over 21 stone tight-head Will Griff John.

Pivac will also be expected to use his motivational powers to coax the best form out of players spurned for World Cup duty. Foremost among them is Rob Evans, the biggest casualty of the squad for Japan. The loosehead is slowly returning to form and fitness and he scored a try against Treviso on the weekend. His all-action style of play and brilliant offloading game will be an asset to a coach that knows his game intimately.

If the pack is looking fairly robust, in the backline, Stephen Jones has rabbits to pull out of a hat already. In his old fly-half position, the situation is fluid. There’s no doubt 79-cap Biggar is Wales’ talisman. He is able to dictate a game, is defensively courageous and one of the world’s best under the high-ball, but Pivac may want to play a more expansive game.

Two names that will figure heavily in the discussion are Sam Davies and Jarrod Evans. Davies has taken a leap of faith to head for Rodney Parade where he is tasked with steering the Dragons to improved fortunes and he has started the season full of vigour and invention. With a varied kicking game and sumptuous passing game, Davies has the ability to add to his eight caps and having just turned 26 last month, this gives him plenty of time to assert himself.

Evans, the Cardiff Blues playmaker, fluffed his lines in a tortuous 40 minutes against Ireland in the World Cup warm-ups but the jack-in-the-box fly-half is a talent who plays to the line and adds uncertainty in the minds of defenders. One of those two will surely be given the chance to press their claims from the bench in the coming months.

At full-back, with doubts over Halfpenny and Williams, it could be a straight shoot-out between Hallam Amos and Johnny McNicholl. The latter, a former Canterbury Crusader, has long been talked of as a Test-player in waiting. Able to slot in comfortably anywhere in the back three, McNicholl is fleet-of-foot, a consummate finisher and only has to speak to fellow New Zealander Hadleigh Parkes about the intoxicating lure of Test rugby. Parkes only made his Test debut at 30 and he has gone onto represent Wales with distinction on 25 occasions.

There are many who disagree with the three-year residency rule, but that won’t bother Pivac. If McNicholl is good enough – and he looks to be – he could be making his Test match bow in next year’s Six Nations and who would bet against him forcing his way into the Lions squad in the manner Jared Payne did in 2017? The same goes for Willis Halaholo, who could add his hot-stepping footwork to kickstart the Welsh midfield.

Another matter to cause a furrow on the brow of the Welsh management team is the continued hum-drum form of the regions. They have chalked up 10 wins in 24 games in the PRO14 to date – compare that to 19 wins in 24 from the Irish provinces.

It’s a modest return, but look closer and half of those wins have come from the in-form Scarlets under the impressive Brad Mooar, which means it’s five wins in 18 from the Blues, Ospreys and Dragons. With European fixtures to come over the next two weeks, that figure is unlikely to be given an extra sheen.

 

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The obvious choices. Gatland missing anyone? #RugbyWorldCup #wales #england

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In mitigation, Dean Ryan has given the Dragons their first win on the road in four years, but Allen Clarke is already under pressure and John Mulvihill has already given his Blues squad a public rebuke. Pivac knows the limitations placed on the regional game, but momentum is critical and when the raft of internationals come back, he will be desperate for an upturn.

Warren Gatland routinely seemed to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear but with crowds waning and enthusiasm muted, building four regional powerhouses is a long-term project with no easy fix. If there is one portent that bodes well for Pivac, it is Wales’ performance under Warren Gatland after World Cups. In 2008 and 2012, Wales won Grand Slams and in 2016, they finished second to England.

Pivac will have to get used to comparisons to Gatland, and you wouldn’t be surprised if the fellow Kiwis broke some bread before his departure to deliver some handover notes. By accident or design, Pivac will hope for the bounce of the ball in the next ten weeks. Thirteen Scarlets for the Italy game? He wouldn’t dare, would he?

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The god-awful hospital pass Wayne Pivac just received and his likely course of treatment