English rugby has always provided Wales with international players over the years, but few coaches have proved as willing to tap into the neighbour’s resources as Wayne Pivac. Good thing, too, argues Robin Davey, who says the new Wales chief deserves applause for his daring approach.
Wayne Pivac clearly doesn’t believe in hanging about. One friendly in against the Barbarians after succeeding Warren Gatland as Wales coach and he’s gone for a bold approach that would have even Gatland raising his eyebrows back in his native New Zealand.
For Pivac – in a big 38-strong Six Nations squad chosen to prepare for the opening game against Italy at the Principality Stadium on February 1 – has named five uncapped players, four of them from English clubs, all of them pretty much out of the blue.
True, teenage sensation Louis Rees-Zammit had been flagged up after his remarkable try-scoring exploits for Gloucester this season, though even he had barely been heard of a few months ago.
Nine tries in just nine appearances for the English club quickly changed all that as he became the talk of the Premiership.
But Nick Tompkins, Will GriffJohn and Will Rowlands? To many in Wales, these are very unfamiliar names and all pretty much rabbits out of the hat for the casual observer.
Prop GriffJohn had been on some fans’ radar screens after being advanced by Sale coach Steve Diamond, but hardly in the case of Rowlands and Tompkins.
Obviously, Pivac knew better but as far as the general public are concerned I doubt whether any had even heard of Tompkins and Rowlands, certainly not in a Welsh sense.
It only came to light this week that Saracens centre Tompkins had a Welsh qualification, even if Pivac knew, qualifying via a grandmother born in Wrexham.
For the uninitiated, he was a member of the England Under-20 team who won the World Cup in 2014 when he played alongside Dragons No.8 Ross Moriarty.
A member of the formidable Saracens line-up, he scored a hat-trick of tries against Gloucester in last season’s Premiership semi-final.
Rowlands is a big hunk, standing 6ft 8ins tall and weighing in at 19st, qualifying via a Welsh father. But he was known to regional coaches here, for ex-Dragons coach Bernard Jackman told me two years ago they were targeting him.
But Rowlands decided to stay with Wasps where last season he became a regular starter.
So, Pivac isn’t afraid to go outside the country as he aims to get off to a flyer in just over two weeks’ time.
It also confirms that the network for exploiting the full breadth of Welsh eligibility has been ramped up under Pivac, who is not satisfied with leaving some stones unturned.
You never know who might be lurking underneath – even someone the size of Rowlands.
In total, Pivac has gone for 11 players currently plying their trade outside the country, all of which helps make this an exciting looking squad full of possibilities.
Pivac was beset by all manner of injury problems, yet he has used that problem to create opportunity.
Apart from the four uncapped English-based players, Pivac has recalled Owen Williams after a two-year absence, and gone for Rhys Carre, Taulupe Faletau, Rhys Webb, Jonah Holmes, Dan Biggar and Liam Williams, all of whom are currently playing outside Wales.
The Six Nations will be a step into the unknown, not just for some of the players but also for a new coaching team, with Pivac joined by Stephen Jones, Jonathan Humphreys and Byron Hayward.
On top of that Pivac has brought in two recent stalwarts of the game in Martyn Williams as team manager – in succession to Alan Phillips, who will be doing a similar job with the Lions – and Sam Warburton, as a consultant coach with special responsibility around the rucks and mauls.
Glad to see Owen Williams back in the Wales squad. Very talented player who proved in 2017 he could cut it against the best. Also suits Pivac’s style of play. Would now expect him to move back to Wales next season.
— Steffan Thomas (@Steffan_Thomas1) January 15, 2020
Wales will go in as Grand Slam winners and after the loss of Gatland and his sidekick Shaun Edwards many have been predicting a fall from grace for the Welsh team.
I don’t go along with that.
The coaching team and the squad have both been refreshed. There is a bold and adventurous new look about the place and Wales could well thrive under a new regime with some new faces on and off the pitch.
Pivac has built on solid foundations, but his first squad proves he is very much his own man and there are exciting times ahead.