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All Change . . . Wayne Pivac Era Will Include New Faces And A New Approach

The car parking space at the Welsh Rugby Union’s training centre has a new name plate. Warren Gatland has gone and Wayne Pivac’s initials are now inscribed. It’s not the only thing that will change, according to Robin Davey, as he looks ahead to this month’s fixture between Wales and the Barbarians.

The king is dead, long live the king.

Warren Gatland has proved the most successful and one of the most popular coaches Wales has ever had. But all good appointments come to an end and a new era is about to begin.

Fellow New Zealander Wayne Pivac takes over at the helm, immediately, with a game to prepare for as early as November 30 against the Barbarians.

He will be joined in his coaching team by fellow ex-Scarlet Stephen Jones – though Jones took charge of the backs during the World Cup following the demise of Rob Howley – and Jonathan Humphreys, who is returning from Scotland to become forwards coach.

The plan is also to recruit Byron Hayward, who will have a hard act to follow as defence coach when he steps into the shoes of Shaun Edwards.

One thing is for sure, Pivac will encourage a more open, expansive playing style as he has done with the Scarlets, though, obviously, remaining pragmatic as most New Zealanders are.

His team may have dropped off badly last season, but in the two previous years they played some stunning attacking rugby and you would hope that’s a part of Wales’ armoury both he and Jones are eager to expand.

Fans already sated by a magnificently staged World Cup in Japan are now eagerly awaiting the announcement of Pivac’s first squad.

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He will presumably want to rest those who played pretty much right through the World Cup, so although some are advocating their inclusion, it’s difficult to imagine the likes of Alun Wyn Jones and Ken Owens being called upon again so soon after the tournament has ended.

Others – like Liam Williams, Leigh Halfpenny, Josh Navidi, Jonathan Davies, George North and Tomas Francis – are either ruled out by injury or are not 100% fit.

So, given the nature of this particular match, it’s an ideal time for Pivac to experiment to a degree.

He could give an opportunity to players who were out in Japan but played a very minor role – like Hallam Amos, Owen Lane – a late call-up to Japan, of course – Aled Davies, Ryan Elias, Rhys Carre, Bradley Davies, Aaron Shingler and James Davies.

Others who just failed to make it, like outside-half Jarrod Evans, could also be included, though the unfortunate Gareth Anscombe will not be available after suffering a serious knee injury just prior to the World Cup.

A major boost for Pivac will be the return of talismanic No 8 Taulupe Faletau, maybe not for the Barbarians game, but certainly for the Six Nations in the New Year. He is back in training with Bath and said to be nearing a return to action after successive shoulder and arm operations.

On top of that, Pivac is believed to be scouring talent outside the country and may well include them in his initial squad. These could include players like Bristol outside-half Ioan Lloyd and Leicester flanker Tommy Reffell.

Lloyd, the youngest of them all, has made a huge impression with Bristol, twice scoring vital tries after going on as a second half replacement this season, the first against neighbours Bath and the second against Sale.

Reffell, a former Wales Under-20s captain, is said by people at Leicester to be the next Sam Warburton – high praise indeed.

As for the Barbarians fixture, it is, of course, nothing more than a money-making venture.

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Because of the World Cup there are no autumn internationals, so the Welsh Rugby Union, in common with other unions, will suffer a loss this season. In order to offset that to an extent, the game against the Barbarians has been arranged.

Lightweight though it is, it will still shed some light on the way Pivac wants to go and the players he intends bringing into the fold.

And the occasion will provide one final opportunity to say goodbye to Warren Gatland at the Principality Stadium.

Gatland just happens to be in charge of the opposition which will be an odd situation for him. But he is sure to be given a rapturous reception after all he has done for Welsh rugby before he sails off into the sunset.

He is to take charge of his home province, the Chiefs of Waikato, though he has also been linked with the All Blacks job post-Steve Hansen.

The New Zealand RFU have written to 26 leading coaches inviting them to apply for the post and have said the role will not go to a foreigner or an overseas-based coach.

If Gatland is to succeed – if he wants the job, that is – he would have to give up his position as Lions coach for their visit to South Africa in 2021.

Given his previous success in that role and his clear enjoyment of it, that’s going to be a big ask. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, over to you, Wayne Pivac!

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