By Paul Jones
Wayne Pivac has been given a New Zealand seal of approval from fellow Kiwi John Mitchell just days before the pair clash in the Six Nations.
England defence coach Mitchell has backed the direction in which Pivac is taking his Wales team, who are just one win away from an unexpected Triple Crown.
The two countrymen will meet at the Principality Stadium on Saturday with Pivac having received an unsolicited pat on the back from the former All Blacks and USA head coach.
“I don’t know Wayne. He played for North Harbour when I was playing for Waikato, so we were actually adversaries as players. He was in a pretty good back row with Wayne Shelford and a guy called Kevin Schuler, both of who were All Blacks at the time,” said Mitchell.
“But Wayne has been in the game a long time, you can clearly see his philosophy coming through of wanting to play the game at speed and move the ball.
“Like any good coach you’ve got to learn quickly at the highest level when you don’t get things right, and you’ve got to take your hat off to him because at the moment they’re playing really good rugby.
“It will require us to work really, really hard for each other as these games often go down to the wire. We’re really looking forward to it and showing what we’re capable of for the rest of the Six Nations.
“It’s one of those occasions that means a lot to both countries and sets of players. Both countries have had sustained success, but none of that really matters when it comes to playing against each other.”
Now in his second stint as part of the England coaching team, Mitchell has experienced the intensity of Wales v England matches before.
He was also the captain of the Waikato team, that included Warren Gatland, that beat Wales in Hamilton on the 1988 tour to New Zealand.
“It’s one of the best rugby rivalries. I’ve been through a few of them now and they are extremely competitive.
“A Wales Test week is one of the best and I’ve been through a few of them. They’re extremely competitive and require us to work really, really hard for each other.
“These games often go down to the wire. We’re really looking forward to it and wanting to show what we’re capable of for the rest of the Six Nations.
“Its one of those occasions that means a lot to both countries and the players. It’s something that countries can get behind.
“Both countries have had sustained success, but none of that really matters when it comes to playing against each other. The historical background is always there in the contest.
“Wales are playing really well. They’ve got good balance to their game and are more aggressive.”
Pivac will name his team tomorrow and has some significant selection decisions, especially at half-back, centre and in the back row, with a raft of players available again after overcoming injury.
Wing Josh Adams is also available again after serving his two-match ban for breaking Covid regulations, but he would seem likely to earn a recall only if Leigh Halfpenny is unfit after a head knock and Liam Williams is moved to full-back.
The other wing spot seems nailed down by the red hot form of Louis Rees-Zammit, although Wales forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys has said he expects England to target the inexperience of the 20-year-old on Saturday.
“Any threatening player is going to come with a huge tag on top of his head, so we are expecting, among other players, to be targeted,” said Humphreys.
“Louis has made massive improvements in his game, and he knows a lot of those English players, so with that comes a huge amount of pressure, but he has got a great temperament and we back him to deal with anything that comes his way.
“He’s great, just turned 20, very mature, and you can see how much he has grown up from the last Six Nations to this one.
“He is well aware of the work-ons – the amount of stuff he has got to do outside of scoring tries – and he is working very, very hard at doing that. We are seeing the flourishing of that.”