Time flies. Just 18 weeks ago, Wayne Pivac was fielding allegations that he had lost the Wales dressing room. Now he is just 80 minutes away from winning the 2021 Six Nations Grand Slam. What gives? Since a 32-9 hammering by Ireland in Dublin on November 13, Wales have won six of their last seven games, their past five on the bounce.
It’s a sequence that has transformed the tenure of Pivac, the New Zealander who has had very large footsteps to follow in the shape of Warren Gatland, his fellow Kiwi who massively revived the fortunes of the Welsh between 2008 and 2019 before signing off as World Cup semi-finalists in Japan.
Up stepped Pivac, a PRO12 title winner with Scarlets in 2017, and he endured quite a baptism of fire, going so far as to eventually sack his Wales defence coach Byron Hayward in the lead-up to that November defeat in Ireland. From the outside looking in, it appeared a chaotic situation and with it came an avalanche of unsavoury criticism.
Four months later, Pivac is now in Paris and just one more win away from a thoroughly unexpected Grand Slam title. It’s a transformative situation that has now left him in a position of real authority but he hasn’t been of a mind to gloat, refusing an invitation at a media conference in the build-up to the round five finale to fire back at the critics who wanted him sacked.
“At the end of the day it [criticism] goes with the territory,” he said. “The same thing happened at the Scarlets, it took a wee while for that machine to get rolling and ultimately we had some success.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 14, 2020
“Look, people will have their opinions and rightly so. They support the team, they put a lot of faith in what we do and if things don’t go well questions get asked. I’m not bothered by that in the slightest. When I watch other sports I am probably quite critical as well, it’s just human nature isn’t it?”
That human nature had forced Pivac on the defensive in November, the coach insisting in Dublin at the time that the atmosphere in the Wales dressing room post-game was positive despite a wounding Nations Cup loss.
“The thing for coaches in these situations is the vibe in the changing room, the vibe in amongst the players, and if you look in the changing room you’d see a disappointed team but a team that had put in a hell of a shift,” he said at the Aviva Stadium. “We had asked for that after the Scottish performance and the work we put in without the ball, that speaks volumes.”
Having since happened on a run of more pleasing results which have silenced his critics, Pivac is now on the cusp of repeating a Grand Slam feat which his predecessor Gatland delivered in 2008, 2012 and 2019. “I’d be very, very pleased,” he said when asked how he would feel if Wales complete the job in Paris on Saturday.
“As individuals, we are competitive people. We want to win things, that is what you are in it for. For me, it’s also about helping develop rugby players and seeing them improve and become the best they can be and we are starting to see that with some of these players and we are seeing some young fellas develop.
“Like a Louis Rees-Zammit, from not playing in the Six Nations last year to where he is at now, just seeing that growth has been fantastic and it’s worth its weight in gold. Look, winning a Grand Slam would be fantastic. Winning the championship would be fantastic.
“If we ended up coming second it’s a big improvement. I’d be very pleased for the players because ultimately they are the ones who go out and pull the jersey on and they are the ones that throw themselves into some dark places and our job is just to get them ready to go and hopefully we have done a good job.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 19, 2021
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