Wales' losing streak puts coach Pivac under pressure

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Wayne Pivac
Wayne Pivac

Wales coach Wayne Pivac is facing plenty of awkward questions as his side head into Friday's Autumn Nations Cup opener away to Ireland on a run of five straight defeats.

When Pivac succeeded fellow New Zealander Warren Gatland as Wales boss, they had just reached a 2019 World Cup semi-final and were the reigning Six Nations Grand Slam champions.

But this year saw Wales lose four of their five Six Nations matches as they suffered their worst Championship finish for 13 years, with only perennial strugglers Italy below them in the table.

And last month's tournament-ending loss to Scotland in Llanelli was the first time they had been beaten on home soil by the Scots since 2002.

Pivac, having previously spent several years coaching the Llanelli-based Scarlets, is well aware of what he had let himself in for by taking over from Gatland, who delivered three Grand Slams and two World Cup semi-finals during his 12 years in charge.

"Yes, 100 percent," said Pivac when asked after naming his team to play Ireland on Wednesday if he was prepared for the intense spotlight that went with the Wales job. "I would be disappointed if there wasn't any pressure."

Pivac is contracted to take Wales to the 2023 World Cup in France but, significantly, there is a break clause in his agreement with the Welsh Rugby Union that can be activated next year.

That may explain this week's shock announcement that Wales had ditched defence coach Byron Hayward - a man Pivac had worked with for some six-and-a-half years and had proclaimed to be a "very, very good coach".

Hayward's position was not helped by the fact the man he replaced, Shaun Edwards - a key member of the Wales set-up under Gatland - is now playing a similar role in France's exciting revival.

'Eliminate the errors'

There have been suggestions that players who enjoyed working under Edwards did not approve of Hayward's methods.

But Pivac insisted 'player power' had not been behind the removal of his former assistant.

"I'm certainly not seeing it, and if it is (there) then the players are very good at hiding it," he said.

That Pivac, who insisted he took full responsibility for Hayward's exit, has got rid of a key lieutenant just seven games into his reign arguably says as much about him as it does about his former defence chief.

If Wales' losing streak continues - and they haven't won in Dublin since 2015 - the greater the focus on Pivac himself.

In professional sport all decisions, however, can ultimately be justified by results.

It took Pivac several seasons to turn a mediocre Scarlets side into a team that won the 2017 PRO14 - their first major trophy for 13 years.

But international coaches have far fewer matches in which to change the fortunes of a team and Pivac's attempt to get Wales to play a more expansive style have so far foundered on the inability of their forwards to secure enough decent possession.

Wales have undoubtedly suffered from being without the likes of flanker Josh Navidi, but injuries are a common issue for all teams.

Meanwhile the clock is ticking down towards the 2023 World Cup, with Pivac, like many a struggling coach before him, suggesting self-inflicted mistakes were behind the losing streak.

"We are working very hard and trying to eliminate the errors in our game that are putting us under pressure," he said.

"This tournament is a fresh opportunity. Ireland away is a stiff challenge first up, but there is no better challenge to find out how much improvement we've made over the last two weeks."



15 Jacob Stockdale, 14 Hugo Keenan, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park; 1 Ed Byrne, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 3 Andrew Porter, 4 Iain Henderson, 5 James Ryan, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 7 Josh van der Flier, 8 Caelan Doris

Substitutes: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Will Connors, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Keith Earls


15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Will Rowlands, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ryan Elias, 1 Rhys Carre

Substituutes: 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Aaron Wainwright, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Callum Sheedy, 23 George North

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