Wales boss Wayne Pivac has revealed he was blocked from selecting Rhys Priestland for his 2021 Guinness Six Nations squad. Head coach Pivac asked his Welsh Rugby Union bosses for special dispensation to select Bath fly-half Priestland, who does not meet the 60-cap threshold for a player based outside Wales.
The 34-year-old is expected to return to Wales with Cardiff Blues next term, but Pivac was barred from including the 50-cap playmaker despite those circumstances. Pivac admitted he posed the question given the long-term injuries to Rhys Patchell and Gareth Anscombe, with the Blues’ Jarrod Evans winning selection alongside Dan Biggar and Callum Sheedy.
“In terms of Rhys Priestland, we have asked the question along the lines of the Rhys Webb question when that was done at the time,” said Pivac. “We have injuries. In Rhys Patchell, who is coming back from a well-documented head knock and is now in a reconditioning programme, he has been out of the game for a while. And obviously, Gareth Anscombe is still out.
“So for us, it’s about can we select Rhys if we need to call upon him. And that question has been asked. And so we have selected what we have on the basis that they are available. So we now know whether or not we can use Rhys should we get a further injury – and no, we can’t.
“Jarrod’s been brought in. He was left out of the autumn series and he has been given parts of his game to work on, the kicking side of his game. So Neil Jenkins and Stephen Jones have been working hard with him on that, solidly behind the scenes. So we are interested to see how that has been developing, and we know about his running game and that he is a gutsy defender.”
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Priestland has not played Test rugby since 2017, but not even a pending return to Wales has proved enough to sway Pivac’s WRU bosses over a potential recall. Cardiff playmaker Evans is the only fly-half in Pivac’s squad based in Wales, with Biggar at Northampton and Sheedy at Bristol.
Pivac has admitted to pushing to have his England-based players released for the entirety of the Six Nations to protect the Wales squad amid continued coronavirus concerns. Wales will aim to test their players twice a week in camp and limit the players’ time with families in a bid to avoid any positive Covid-19 cases.
“It’s an ongoing discussion, it’s very topical and one everyone is looking for some clarification over and I believe we will get that,” said Pivac. “I believe it would be sensible for everyone in the current climate that we don’t, and we certainly don’t want to have players coming and going because in the community at the moment the new variant is transferred very quickly.
“So we certainly would like it if we can to have any players selected based outside of Wales to have them full-time. We’re just waiting for an answer on that. We had 700-odd tests through the autumn, all coming back negative. So we think we did a pretty good job in relation to Covid in making sure we gave ourselves every opportunity to have everybody available, not only in the playing group but also the management group.
“This time around we will be carrying out an extra layer of testing, so twice a week rather than once, and we will be staying in a bubble a lot longer than previously.”
Wales have overlooked Ospreys scrum-half Rhys Webb, with emerging talent Kieran Hardy retaining his place from the autumn. Pivac admitted pulling no punches when telling the 32-year-old Webb where he must improve in order to fight back into the Test equation.
“Rhys Webb and I had a good chat this morning around the accuracy of his passing game, he just needs to get those numbers back up,” said Pivac. “And we just question his pace at the top end of the game. “The other three all just bring electric pace, we know that, and that is something that is in question at the moment with Rhys. But he is not out of the loop in terms of playing for Wales in the future – he is just not going to be selected for this tournament at this stage.”
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