Six Nations: Is the wrong Kiwi getting the credit for Wales’ revival?

Alex Broun 19:30 09/02/2018
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Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac.

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.

Wayne Pivac (l) in his Auckland days with co-coach Grant Fox.

Wayne Pivac (l) in his Auckland days with co-coach Grant Fox.

“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.

Llanelli skipper Delme Thomas is carried shoulder-high from Stradey Park after the famous 1972 victory over the All Blacks.

Llanelli skipper Delme Thomas is carried shoulder-high from Stradey Park after the famous 1972 victory over the All Blacks.

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.

Stephen Jones has made a big difference to the Scarlets' backs.

Stephen Jones has made a big difference to the Scarlets’ backs.

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.

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