Why Wales are backing a 184-cap duo that have started together just once before in their midfield
Wayne Pivac has explained why he has placed his trust in the embryonic midfield partnership of George North and Jonathan Davies to flourish when Wales take on England this Saturday in round three of the Guinness Six Nations. Unbeaten Wales are still unexpectedly on track for a Grand Slam following wins over Ireland and Scotland and Pivac’s latest gambit is to unite North with Davies in a rarely used centre partnership to try and gain an edge on the English.
Traditionally a winger, North has only ever been a starter at No13 in seven of his 99 Wales appearances while Davies, who has 85 Wales caps, has usually been used at outside centre, not at No12 where he will line up on Saturday.
The pair have played there together just the once before, running out against Italy in December when an emergency arose over Johnny Williams, but Pivac believes he saw enough on that occasion to give the North-Davies combination another outing.
“He has got a lot of excitement for the position. He has got an outside break, big and strong. He can do the donkey work if he needs to in the middle of the park,” explained Pivac about North ahead of his centurion cap for Wales in a career where his seven previous starts wt No13 have seen him partner Jamie Roberts (three occasions), Owen Watkin (once), Hadleigh Parkes (once), Davies (once) and Williams (just the once as well).
“Jonathan brings a wealth of experience and we looked at him as a 12, not as a 13. The last time he played for us was at 12 against Italy and I thought he did a good job in attack and defence on that particular day with just homework on the computer as his preparation and the matchday warm-up as Johnny was down to play and start in that game and we weren’t going to use Foxy at all.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 25, 2021
“Now with a good week’s preparation under his belt and the combination with George and also how players have looked in training as well – certainly Foxy is looking very, very good from our point of view and when he pulls that Welsh jersey on he never lets the team down. It’s a big game and he has got plenty of experience.”
Lauding North for his 100th selection, Pivac added: “A lot of that was done under Warren (Gatland) and it is well documented what he has done in the past. The thing with group is he has got a new lease of life. The challenge of moving into centre has also excited him.
“He had a couple of weeks in the autumn where we sent him away to club footy and he has responded really well to all the challenges we have put in front of him. It speaks volumes for the player. He is still highly motivated and still wants to play for Wales well past 100 games and I’m sure he is going to do that with the attitude he has shown at the moment.”
The inclusions of North and Davies in the Wales midfield were two of five changes made by Pivax to his starting XV following the round two win over Scotland. Josh Navidi replaces Aaron Wainwright, Josh Adams comes back from his suspension to take over from Leigh Halfpenny with Liam Williams moving to the win, while Kieran Hardy will earn just his fourth cap after edging ibn at No9 ahead of Garth Davies.
Explaining the promotion of the 25-year-old half-back, Pivac said: “Two thoughts – one is form. He [Hardy] did everything we wanted him to do when he went on under pressure against Scotland. He ticked the box in terms of a young man under pressure.
“Also, with Gareth, it’s well known what he can do off the bench when defences start to tire… it is going to be a big occasion for Kieran and he is excited by the opportunity. We will learn a lot as he will.”
Switching his focus to wha challenge England will pose in Cardiff, Pivac added: “Having dropped the first game [losing to Scotland] makes them even more dangerous because of the pressure that comes on for them in this particular match. They won the Autumn Nations Cup and have got very good history in recent Six Nations so they are the team to beat and they pose a very big challenge.
“We are going to have to perform well to have the chance to get the result. If we have a first 20, 25 minutes like we did in Scotland we could be out of the game. We are well aware of the threat that England pose. They gave got the pedigree in this competition and the history behind them in recent tournaments.
“Every match there is pressure for different reasons and there is pressure on us to back up two wins with a solid performance. There is talk about 14 men versus 15, so hopefully will be 15 on 15 and we will be under pressure at times and it is how we cope with that pressure. We welcome it, we want to improve as a side and keep building. This is the perfect position after a week of rest.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 25, 2021
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