Wales and British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland is smart enough to give credit where credit is due.
He has cast his eye over his domain and identified one of the four Welsh province’s, the Scarlets, performing superbly and doing so by playing an eye-catching brand of attacking rugby.
So why try to re-invent the wheel? Instead Gatland has simply done the smart thing – swap 12 of those Scarlets’ jerseys for a slightly brighter shade of red as a good dozen Llanelli players turn out for his national line up against England on Saturday.
It would be 14 if Liam Williams and Jonathan Davies were fit.
But it has made the New Zealand coach of Scarlets, Wayne Pivac’s job a little bit harder. The ex-policeman has becomes a victim of his own success as he tries to run training sessions without a dozen of his stars.
Ten of Pivac’s team were in the starting line-up that hammered Scotland 34-7 and announced Wales as a surprise contender for 2018 Six Nations glory.
But as a result, with other players also absent on Wales Under-20 duty, Pivac and his other coaches have been pressed into service at training as defenders.
“That was tough work,” admitted Pivac to The Times after a recent training run. “When they see the coaches standing out there in front of them, they run even harder at you.”
Playing a brand of rugby that has been as entertaining as it has been effective, the Scarlets won the PRO14 title last season and recently became the first Welsh region for six years to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup.
But Pivac has no malice to his fellow Kiwi for capitalizing on his success.
“It’s been pretty smart from Warren,” says Pivac, “he’s put a lot of Scarlets in, he’s backed the boys and they’ve repaid the faith he’s put in them. We all take a lot of pride seeing so many Scarlets in the national team.”
The Scarlets current success marks the end of a long journey for Pivac.
Growing up in Auckland he could never have imagined that one day he would coach the small town in west Wales, Llanelli, that in October 1972 beat the touring All Blacks 9-3 at a full-to-bursting Stradey Park.
Pivac came to the Scarlets from the Auckland ITM Cup team three and a half years ago, originally as forwards coach, then taking over as head coach when Simon Easterby moved to Ireland.
The 56-year-old says he hasn’t done anything new at Scarlets, just re-awoken the region’s rich heritage for attacking rugby.
“It’s in the DNA of Llanelli from the old days,” he says. “They liked to move the ball out. If you look at videos of the Auckland teams I used to coach, that’s exactly how we played. So connecting that stuff with this club wasn’t a difficult choice.”
Pivac’s own preference for an expansive style can be traced back to his days with North Harbour under Peter Thorburn.
Since arriving at the Scarlets, Pivac has spent long hours developing the handling skills of his pack. The results could be seen on Saturday against Scotland, when prop Samson Lee was regularly executing flip-passes.
Pivac has also been helped by the arrival of former Wales No10 Stephen Jones as attack coach.
“Stephen was an influential figure to bring on board,” Pivac says. “We really wanted to drive the passion for the jersey in this club.
“The history of the 9-3, the Bennetts, the Gravells, we really played on that.
“We’d ask the players, when was the last time history was created? How about we create our own history and put a smile on people’s faces?”
The Scarlets’ brand of free-flowing rugby has certainly put smiles on faces at Parc y Scarlets and hopefully will put more smiles on Welsh faces at Twickenham on Saturday.
For Pivac the reward may come after the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan when most people expect him to succeed Gatland as national coach with the New Zealand-led Wales dynasty set to continue.
Exciting full-back Larmour is primed for his Test bow in the NatWest 6 Nations clash against Italy in Dublin this weekend, after a string of fine performances in his breakthrough campaign with Leinster.
Italy boss Conor O’Shea likened the 20-year-old rookie to All Blacks great Christian Cullen on Thursday – but Ireland skipper Best is convinced Larmour can shake off the hype.
The 35-year-old Ireland hooker Best joked that he got married in the same year that Larmour appeared as a Leinster mascot, but insisted he has no qualms about the highly-rated youngster stepping into the Test arena.
“I’d imagine Jordan might not even have been born when Christian Cullen was producing magic for the All Blacks,” said Best, of Larmour, who will take a seat on Ireland’s bench on Saturday.
“It was Cian Healy who produced a picture of Jordan as a mascot, waving a flag before a Leinster game, in 2009. The most frightening part of that is that I got married in 2009!
“He doesn’t strike you as one who gets too uptight but at the same time he gets very little wrong in training, and that speaks volumes about his character.
“And if you want to see how he reacts in a pressurised environment, just look at how he has gone in the biggest provincial games so far.
“The Champions Cup is one thing, but the big inter-pro games I think are another step up really, and against Munster at Thomond, and then against us at the RDS, he really stood up and showed what he’s capable of.
“With quick ball he can be devastating, so it’s up to us to try to provide that platform for him.”
Former New Zealand star Cullen in fact won the first of his 58 All Blacks caps in 1996, with Larmour born the following year: but Rugby‘s fast-revolving generations have caught the current Ireland squad off guard this week.
Larmour’s destructive best has caught the rest of the Irish provinces cold as Leinster have conjured fine, extended form under ex-England boss Stuart Lancaster.
And now Best believes the fast-improving back-three flier has all the credentials to succeed on the international stage.
Best even revealed the young star’s raw pace can be seen at a walk, when Ireland run build moves from the ground up in training.
“I think we’ve seen quite a bit of him over the years coming in, to fill a spot, and now all the other provinces in some shape or form have been affected by him over the last few months,” said Best.
“Even just the change of pace he has in a walk-through that sounds ridiculous, he’s just a very exciting talent.
“It’s massive for him to get his debut, and for him to do it for the first time, he’s massively deserving of being in the squad.
“He’s quiet, but you just know, there’s always at least one guy to walk in, they may not fill the room with their presence with how vocal they are – but this guy has time on the ball, and he makes what I would find very difficult things look very easy.”
Ireland (15-1): R Kearney; K Earls, R Henshaw, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; J Conan, D Leavy, P O’Mahony; D Toner, I Henderson, T Furlong, R Best (c), J McGrath. Reps: S Cronin, C Healy, A Porter, Q Roux, CJ Stander, K Marmion, J Carbery, J Larmour.
Italy (15-1): M Minozzi; T Benvenuti, T Boni, T Castello, M Bellini; T Allan, M Violi; S Parisse (c), B Steyn, S Negri; D Budd, A Zanni, S Ferrari, L Bigi, N Quaglio. Reps: L Ghiraldini, A Lovotti, T Pasquali, F Ruzza, M Mbanda, E Gori, C Canna, J Hayward.
Referee: Romain Poite (FRA);
Venue: Aviva Stadium;
Live on beIN Sports
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones has played down England’s attempts to pile the pressure on fly-half Rhys Patchell, joking that he will have words with “Uncle Eddie” after Saturday’s Six Nations showdown at Twickenham.
England head coach Eddie Jones opened the verbal hostilities on Thursday by questioning whether “third-choice 10” Patchell, 24, had the “bottle” to deliver against the Red Rose and accusing Alun Wyn of having “intimidated” referee Pascal Gauzere.
“It’s easy to play when the ball is on the front foot and going from side to side,” Eddie Jones said.
“But when it gets a bit cut and thirst, nip and tuck, this will be a proper Test. Then we will see if Patchell has the bottle to handle it.”
Alun Wyn, speaking on Friday, said: “People forget that Rhys Patchell has been in the squad for a good few years now.
“You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. I will have a chat with Uncle Eddie after the game.”
Eddie Jones also compared the rawness of Wales’ nine-10-12 axis to his own.
“George Ford has played 41 tests and he’s got Owen Farrell next to him who’s played 54 tests and he’s got Danny Care inside him, playing his 78th international,” Jones said.
“There’s a lot of experience on either side, but who has Patchell going to look for? He hasn’t got a lot of experience inside or outside him.
“That’s a big task for him. I’d imagine that when (Wales captain) Alun Wyn Jones and the guys go down for breakfast on Saturday morning, they’ll be looking at him thinking: ‘can this kid handle the pressure today?’ It’s a big ask.”
It’s an unprecedented attack from a serving England coach on an opposing player and on Friday afternoon England assistant coach Neal Hatley was forced to defend his boss.
Hatley said Eddie Jones’ decision to verbally target the two Wales players will not backfire on the Six Nations champions.
The tactic of placing Patchell and Alun Wyn in the crosshairs has been viewed by some commentators as high-risk, serving only to enrage Wales – but Hatley insists singling out opposition ringleaders is standard practice.
Asked whether he thought the decision would backfire, scrum coach Hatley said: “I don’t think so. The focus falls on us now. We have to make sure we are ready for anything that comes our way.
“It’s commonplace to highlight individual players and Rhys Patchell and Alun Wyn Jones are key players for them. It’s been happening for ages in Test Rugby.
“For us it’s about highlighting their key players and we would be silly not to think they have those sort of personnel. That’s all Eddie is doing. It’s not necessarily winding up the opposition.
“I’m sure in their camp they have said they need to get to George Ford and Owen Farrell, that they need to stop Courtney Lawes or Maro Itoje. I’m sure the same conversations happen in camps across the country.”
Eddie Jones also revealed on Thursday that he had complained to World Rugby about the conduct of Alun Wyn towards Gauzere in Wales’ victory over Scotland last Saturday, claiming it was “right out of order”.
It is understood that the sport’s global governing have responded by exonerating the Welsh captain of any wrongdoing.
Hatley continued: “We were well within our rights to ask the question of World Rugby.
“They have come back with clarification that the referee was in constant communication with the TMO and so it’s not an issue.
“We have complete faith in Jerome Garces to ref the game against Wales and we have never had an issue with him.”
The extraordinary verbal barrage between camps has added even more spice to an eagerly awaited clash at Twickenham on Saturday evening that may yet decide the fate of this year’s Six Nations.
England (15-1): M Brown; A Watson, J Joseph, O Farrell, J May; G Ford, D Care; S Simmonds, C Robshaw, C Lawes; M Itoje, J Launchbury; D Cole, D Hartley (capt), M Vunipola. Reps: J George, A Hepburn, H Williams, G Kruis, S Underhill, R Wigglesworth, B Te’o, J Nowell
Wales (15-1): L Halfpenny; J Adams, S Williams, H Parkes, S Evans; R Patchell, G Davies; R Moriarty, J Navidi, A Shingler; AW Jones (capt), C Hill; S Lee, K Owens, R Evans. Reps: E Dee, W Jones, T Francis, B Davies, J Tipuric, A Davies, G Anscombe, G North
Referee: Jerome Garces (FRA);
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