By David Williams
Wayne Pivac insists there is still plenty to get excited about over Wales’ World Cup draw – including the prospect of Alun Wyn Jones still being at the 2023 tournament at the age of 38.
The pool draw for France 2023 has once again seen Wales grouped alongside Australia and Fiji.
It is the third successive World Cup for that to happen, while Wales’ pool will be completed by qualifiers from Europe – potentially Georgia – and the winner of a four-team final qualification tournament involving sides from Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia/Pacific.
England, meanwhile, are red-hot favourites to win their group ahead of Japan and Argentina, and if that transpires and Wales finish second in Pool C, then a last-eight clash between arguably rugby union’s fiercest rivals will happen.
Pivac’s existing contract expires after the 2023 tournament, while his current captain and world Test match appearance record holder Jones will be 38 just 11 days after the competition starts.
“It will be a massive challenge for Alun Wyn Jones to make 2023, but if there is any player that can do it, then Alun Wyn is that guy,” Pivac said.
“He looks after himself and prepares so well. He knows the landscape very well and knows what it takes to get into that shape.
Your Pools at Rugby World Cup 2023!
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) December 14, 2020
“He will be the one to decide that in terms of where his body and mind is at. He loves those sorts of challenges.”
Wales, under Pivac’s predecessor Warren Gatland, beat Australia at the 2019 tournament, winning 29-25 in Tokyo.
Wales ended up topping their pool and securing a quarter-final against France, but not before Fiji gave them a huge scare in Oita before Gatland’s team prevailed 29-17.
It is the fifth time in a row for Wales and Fiji to meet at a World Cup, with Wales winning the last three encounters after Fiji knocked them out 13 years ago when France last hosted the competition.
Looking at the prospect of a World Cup clash against England, Pivac added: “We don’t want to get carried away, and we’ve got four big pool matches to play.
“If we were to get through and have that sort of a fixture (England), then obviously the excitement would go through the roof in Wales for an England match.
“I certainly have an affinity to Fiji, having coached there in 2007, and with Dave (head coach Dave Rennie) at Australia, it’s going to be a real challenge.
“Everyone is going to be on their toes for every single match.
8 – Australia & Wales will meet in Pool C at @France2023 whilst New Zealand & France clash in Pool A, it will be the 8th iteration of both those fixtures in @rugbyworldcup history, making them the most played match-ups (England & Australia met 7 times). Familiar. pic.twitter.com/ZokWP4sRpS
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) December 14, 2020
“There is a lot of experience in terms of players who played against Australia and Fiji in 2019. We also had Stephen Jones (Wales assistant coach) who joined the party there and was a part of those matches.
“We will draw on that, and his experiences.”
Pivac’s first year in charge of Wales has proved a difficult one, with him overseeing just three victories from 10 starts.
Those wins were against Italy (twice) and Georgia, while Wales suffered six successive defeats during that run of fixtures.
Pivac added: “We are three years out (from the World Cup), and there is a lot of work going on in Wales in terms of building depth.
“We are certainly looking forward to rolling our sleeves up and going into the Six Nations, which will come up very quickly.
“There is a lot of work to be done, but building depth is really important for us looking ahead to 2023, and hopefully we will be playing our best rugby at that stage.”