Finding a replacement for Warren Gatland was never going to be an easy job.
‘Gats’, as he is fondly known, will go down as one of the Red Dragons greatest ever coaches.
He will leave his position as the Wales head coach in November next year, post the Rugby World Cup in Japan, after over a decade in the role where he has (already) claimed two Six Nations crowns and a Rugby World Cup semi-final.
The Welsh Rugby Union have had plenty of time to find a successor. Gatland nominated his finishing date straight after the last World Cup in 2015 – giving the WRU four years to find a replacement.
At first many thought the job would go to one of Gatland’s loyal support staff – defence coach Shaun Edwards, backline coach Rob Howley or even forward coach Robin McBryde, who all played a huge part in the re-birth of Wales as a rugby power.
My brother & I are extremely proud of dad taking on his new position with @WelshRugbyUnion after the conclusion of the 2018/19 season with @scarlets_rugby .We are very excited to see what the future holds for Wales & the Scarlets region as the journey continues 🏉🏴— Bradley Pivac (@brad_pivac) July 9, 2018
But as the years rolled by the trio were ruled out of calculation and in the end the WRU were left with a three man shortlist – all Kiwis: current Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, former Chiefs and now Glasgow Warriors coach Dave Rennie and the man they chose, Scarlets boss Wayne Pivac.
The 56-year-old former Auckland Police Constable will become the fourth Kiwi to take the reigns at Wales after Graham Henry (1998-2002), Steve Hansen (2002-04) and Gatland (2007-19).
You could accuse the Dragons of having a NZ bias but in reality these are three of the best coaches in World Rugby today.
Rennie took the Chiefs to their first ever Super Rugby title in 2012 and again the following year; Robertson won the Crusaders their first Super Rugby crown in almost a decade in his first season in charge last year (something Todd Blackadder couldn’t achieve in eight attempts) and Pivac, who won Scarlets their first Celtic League/PRO12 title in over a decade last season.
He then followed it up by taking them to Final of the PRO14 this season, as well as the semi-final of the Champions Cup – where they were defeated by the magnificent Leinster team. No shame in that.
In the end the WRU went for Pivac although it must have been incredibly tempting to hand the job to the irrepressible Robertson who has made the ‘Saders virtually unbeatable.
But Pivac has had undoubted success with the Scarlets not just with the results but the style of highly skilled, entertaining rugby they are playing.
Wales might be losing a great in Gatland but the Red Dragons will be in very safe hands.
The former Auckland and Fiji head coach has performed the same role at the Scarlets since 2014, masterminding a PRO12 title last year and securing passage into the semi-finals of the Champions Cup in the same season.
The former New Zealand Police constable has beaten fellow Kiwis Dave Rennie and Scott Robinson to the post, which will be vacated by Gatland after Japan 2019.
Pivac, 56, will remain at the Scarlets for the entirety of the 2018/19 season and will only officially come under WRU employment in July 2019.
“First and foremost, on behalf of everyone at the Scarlets, I would like to extend our congratulations to Wayne on his appointment. It will be a proud moment for us all when he takes to the helm as Wales Head Coach,” said Jon Daniels, Scarlets General Manager of Rugby.
“Clearly, finding Wayne’s replacement will be a major priority in the coming months and we are grateful to Wayne and the Welsh Rugby Union for keeping us updated, in an entirely professional and transparent manner, throughout the process.
Ladies and gents - the new Wales coach, Wayne Pivac 👀 pic.twitter.com/QaXBjcE0OE— BBC Sport Wales (@BBCSportWales) July 9, 2018
“Over the last four years Wayne has facilitated the continuation of Scarlets’ development. Being consistently competitive in both the PRO14 and in Europe, has been our aim now for three or four years and will continue to do so.
“We had a one, three and five-year strategy; winning the PRO12 in 2017 was probably a year ahead of where we had forecast to be and that is down to the hard work of the group, of the people involved, to get us to that stage earlier than planned, but that just shows the quality across every department.
“The forthcoming season will be hugely significantly for us all at the Scarlets and ensuring that we build on the momentum and successes from previous seasons will be key. We would also like to be in a position to ensure that Wayne finishes his tenure, here at Parc y Scarlets, with silverware.”
“Having twelve months to find a replacement is something of a luxury in professional sport but as a result we’re now able to follow our detailed recruitment process to ensure we find a Head Coach with ambition and aspiration to continue our rugby performance strategy.
“We are extremely proud of the established environment we have here at the Scarlets and this will not only allow us to continue to be competitive this coming season but we’ll also be in a strong and stable position in readiness to welcome the new Head Coach in twelve months time.
“I know Wayne will agree, we have a strong team here now, of coaches, players and backroom staff. There are a number of people who have contributed to our success under Wayne’s guidance and will continue to contribute and push the region forward this season and after his departure. I am confident we are strong enough to continue to thrive moving forward.”
Wayne Pivac in the room! The Scarlets boss has been formally unveiled as the next Wales coach. pic.twitter.com/lgbbmS5L2t— Simon Thomas (@simonrug) July 9, 2018
Pivac’s appointment is the latest example of people maximising their ability at the Scarlets and is the result of a two year process undertaken by Welsh Rugby Union Chief Executive Martyn Phillips and Chairman Gareth Davies, which has involved meticulous research and extensive consultation, and today’s announcement leaves a year-long gap ahead of his start date, by design.
Phillips said; “I am extremely grateful to the Scarlets for their support of this process and their Chairman, Nigel Short, in particular who has been first class throughout.
“Both Wayne and Warren and their coaching teams, our international players, supporters and everyone at the Scarlets now have clarity and there is no underestimating the positive benefit to be gained from having the time to plan properly for the future.
“What coach, whether they are in Wales or anywhere around the rugby playing world, would not relish the opportunity to join a team of such rich history and proven professionalism as the Scarlets.
“I would like to think that given the heritage of the Scarlets, their culture, passionate supporters, their track record of success and the quality of their squad that the Head Coach position will be one of the most sought after in rugby.”
The losing team will be relegated and replaced by Ghana, the winner of this year’s Bronze Cup.
The tournament starts with six qualification pool matches played between July 8 and 14: one qualification pool for the North and one for the South.
The North pool matches will be played in Toulouse, France, between Algeria, Ivory Coast and Senegal; while the South pool matches will be held in Mufulira, Zambia, where teams from Zambia, Botswana and Madagascar will compete for a place in the final.
The winner of each pool will then meet in the final on August 25th. The location of the final will be decided once the group matches are finished and will depend on ranking.
The Ivory Coast returns in force after their narrow defeat against Morocco last year, determined to clinch their place at the Gold Cup.
Electric atmosphere at the RFUEA Grounds. Kenya beat Zimbabwe 45 -36 in the Rugby Africa Gold Cup 2018. Great job boys. pic.twitter.com/uakRB0LaJn— Kwesé Kenya (@Kwese_KE) June 30, 2018
The Ivorian coach, Edgar Babou, said: “As this Silver Cup tournament approaches, we are in the final weeks of preparation for the individual players and the team is sure to follow.
“Our players are keen. The standard in this tournament will be very high. We are anticipating intense and serious exchanges.
“Our commitment is unwavering and we are ready for the challenge. The geographical location this year is a double-edged sword for us.
“As we are far from Africa, we hope that the large Ivorian community living in France, as well as former internationals, will turn out to support us and give us a boost.”
Algeria is not an opponent to be taken lightly.
“We are very happy to be in Silver Cup with our Senegalese and Ivorian brothers,” said Sofian Ben Hassen, President of the Algerian Rugby Federation.
“The North pool is a tougher one than the South pool in my opinion so I think the winner of our pool will be the outright winner of the Silver Cup.
“It’s up to us Algerians to play our game right. Senegal, as a team, is accustomed to this kind of competition, they have a lot of experience and Ivory Coast was a hair’s breadth away from qualifying for the Gold Cup last year.
“This is our second fifteens competition, we are making slow but sure progress and I am confident that, no matter what happens, we will come out of this tournament a better team.”
The Botswana Vultures prepared in South Africa and they are impatient for the start of the tournament.
“We had a preparatory match in South Africa recently, where we were part of their June 16, Day of the African Child Celebrations,” shared Lesedi Keekae, current president of Botswana Rugby Union.
“The coaches had an opportunity to try out new combinations and new players as they try to blood new talent with the experienced campaigners.
“We look forward to good top-class rugby and competition, and well-organized tournament. We know well that Zambia has been a good host in the past”.
As the host team, the challenge is all the more important for Zambia.
“The team has had a roller coaster ride without much luck in the Silver Cup having first played there in 2015, relegated back to Bronze in 2016, qualified in 2017,” the communications director of the Zambian federation, Tom Chaloba, stated.
“In early June, the team had a test game against Zimbabwe which gave the technical bench time to gauge their player’s readiness for the big game.
“To ensure sustainability in line with team preps, the league this weekend will have the Mopani 15s National Rugby Tournament where coaches will have one final assessment of players before the Silver Cup games.
“Our biggest expectation is to stay in the Silver category and later to advance to the Gold Cup. To this effect, we call upon all stakeholders to rally behind the team from kick off to the last whistle and ensure there is no lack of morale”
The Zambia national Rugby team is set for the Africa Silver Cup tournament that will take place in Mufulira from the 8th to the 14th. Today Zambia rugby union head of secretariat Noble Chisenga, says a team of 25 players has been selected is ready to battle it out. pic.twitter.com/JM0jCykBqO— Phoenix FM Zambia (@phoenixfmzambia) July 5, 2018
The Zambian federation is glad to host the Silver Cup and is more than up for the challenge.
“I would first of all like to thank the Zambian federation for hosting the South part of the tournament. They have worked perfectly with Rugby Africa to ensure a highly professional tournament.” acknowledged Abdelaziz Bougja, President of Rugby Africa.
“We are aware that the format of the tournament is different from last year, and that the choice of venue for the games of the North pool has caused our African supporters to ask questions.
“We always give preference to matches on African soil, but this year, with no country volunteering to organise the event and given that many players from these three national teams go on to progress their careers in France, we turned to our partner, the French Rugby Federation.
“I’d like to thank the President of the FFR and the Occitania league for welcoming us to the land of rugby.
“We are fully convinced that the local organizing team is doing an excellent job, and that the Ivorian, Algerian and Senegalese communities of France will be delighted to attend these international meetings.”
There will be real-time commentary on all the matches of the Rugby Africa Silver Cup on their Facebook and Twitter pages.