Wayne Pivac has warned this summer’s tour of South Africa is the last chance for some of his squad to prove they’re good enough as the World Cup appears on the horizon.
In the space of a year, Pivac and his side went from Six Nations champions to finishing fifth and losing to Italy on the final day of the 2022 edition. Since winning the tournament behind closed doors in 2021, Wales have won just four out of 12 games as they head on a daunting three Test trip to face the world champions.
Recent performances have ramped up the pressure on head coach Pivac, who was once again facing calls for his job following the dismal campaign earlier this year. The Wales boss suggested that talks with WRU CEO Steve Phillips still relate to him taking the squad through to the World Cup next year, but Pivac himself has hinted players are playing for their Test future.
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He said: “It’s probably the last step for a few players to show they can compete on a regular basis at this level. It’s probably the start of we’re not going to be tinkering too much with selection. We’ll be looking to play our strongest side now through to the World Cup and we make no apologies for that.”
On his conversations with Phillips, he said: “We certainly had a good discussion around the Six Nations. We do a normal review internally, our reports go through, and then obviously the powers that be have their discussions. My discussions I’ve had with Steve have been very, very positive and they’ve all been about preparing the side through to the World Cup.”
Since the disappointing campaign, Pivac has returned home to New Zealand to recharge the batteries and spent a week in South Africa scoping out potential hotels and training venues for the upcoming tour.
And he has revealed that he leaned on Jacques Nienaber, Rassie Erasmus and the Springbok coaching ticket for their advice when it comes to overcoming adversity.
“It was really good red wine and really good steak, I’ve got to say,” laughed Pivac. “They were great hosts. On that trip, Martyn Williams [team manager] and Paul Stridgeon [head of physical performance] and myself went. We had a look at training grounds, gymnasiums, swimming pools, hotels, and like on any tour, you get a selection and we looked at where we wanted to be, travel distances, that sort of thing, and looked at what facilities would best prepare us for those Test matches.
“We had an evening off when we met up as two coaching groups. A lot of countries do that. They are a good bunch of guys, and we get on well. We had a great discussion on all things rugby and the pressures that come with it.
“Those boys have been under some pressure as well as they had three losses on the bounce with South Africa. We discussed those things and how we deal with them and it’s also nice to have time away from the game. I was fortunate for the first time in two and a bit years to go to New Zealand and catch up with some family I haven’t seen for a long time. That takes your mind away from the game and you can reset and recharge the batteries.
“We had coaches meetings before and after that break so we could have time to go away and reflect and ask more questions in terms of how we want to operate moving forward with selection and game plans.”
Pivac’s 33-man squad, the smallest of his tenure, gather at their Vale Resort training base on June 13 ahead of the first Test on July 2. Though players not involved in post-season rugby on the domestic front will have training days prior to that and Pivac is mindful that much of his squad will go six weeks without a match before the first match in Pretoria.
He said: “We are certainly looking at what we do in the training sessions because you simply can’t go a long period of time without simulating a game and having that contact. With that contact element comes a risk. There’s certainly some discussions.
“Our Under-20s are going to be going into a tournament so they’ll be around at the same time and we can do some light scenarios. That is on the table.
“And also whether or not we bring in an opposition. More likely it will be the simulation of games with the Under-20s and potentially putting ourselves into two teams.”