Wayne Pivac Bids To Sharpen Wales With Kiwi Cutting Edge

Wayne Pivac is hoping new boys Johnny McNicholl and Willis Halaholo can help ignite the Wales attack in the post-Warren Gatland era.

The two New Zealand-born players – both aged 29 – have been included in Pivac’s first squad to face the Barbarians on November 30 as part of a contingent of five uncapped players.

Both qualify on residency, while the three other new faces are Ashton Hewitt, Shane Lewis-Hughes and Taine Basham. A total of 22 of the 32-man squad were involved at the World Cup.

Pivac was at pains to stress at his first press conference since becoming Wales coach that he was keen to build on the platform laid by Warren Gatland – a case of evolution rather than revolution.

But the one area where he appeared to suggest there is room for much improvement is in giving Wales greater variety and more cutting edge options in attack.

McNicholl – who can operate at full-back or wing – is familiar at close quarters to Pivac, who brought him to the Scarlets three seasons ago.

Cardiff Blues centre Halaholo – who also came to Wales in 2016 and has fulfilled the three-year residency period – is a player identified by Pivac as a possible international option, earlier in the year as well as when the pair were in New Zealand.

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“I personally know a lot about Johnny McNicholl, obviously, and I had Willis in the Auckland age groups when I was coaching there, so I know his background,” said Pivac.

“They’re both exciting attacking players. It’s an opportunity for us to get Willis in for a week and have a look at him. We spoke to him earlier in the season about parts of his game we like and parts we think he can work on.

“It will be an interesting week to see how some players step up into a new environment and he’s one of those players.”

Back-row duo Basham – who scored a hat-trick of tries for the Dragons against Castres at the weekend and Cardiff Blues flanker Lewis-Hughes are two rising stars of the regional game. So, too, was Dragons wing Hewitt until his career stalled through injury.

“They’re exciting young talents and well known to the age grade coaches,” said Pivac.

“They’ve had a successful time in the development programme we have here and both are playing senior rugby for their regions and have caught the eye.

“It’s about learning about players so we’ve got more information on them when it comes to the Six Nations.

“The selection of this group is about the here and now and some of it is looking at players and getting information for the Six Nations but also with an eye on 2023.”

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“I was at the Dragons game on the weekend with Jonathan Humphreys and it wasn’t a bad time to score three tries as a youngster!”

Pivac will encounter a Barbarians side coached by his Wales predecessor Gatland, whose 12-year reign ended after the World Cup in Japan.

The Wales captain, Alun Wyn Jones, is among a number of star names not included, with Pivac having already been hit by several injuries, including those to Jonathan Davies and Rhys Patchell. England-based players such as the Northampton fly-half Dan Biggar, meanwhile, were unavailable for selection.

The Scarlets prop Rob Evans, who missed out on the World Cup, features in the squad and there are also opportunities for the likes of the recalled No 10 Sam Davies and the Dragons back-row forward Ollie Griffiths.

“It is great to get the squad announced and get the ball rolling on our first meet-up and first fixture next week,” said Pivac.

“This Barbarians game is a great chance for us as a new squad and management to get together and to set the scene for what we are looking to do.

“Having this opportunity ahead of tournament rugby in the Six Nations is ideal for us. It is also a great chance for some players to really put their hand up and show what they are about and take to the field in front of a big crowd at home.

“We will be bringing a few additional players in to train with the squad during the week just to see them in the environment, and will also be bringing some of the injured players in for some of the scene-setting sessions.”

Wales squad

Forwards:

Elliot Dee (Dragons), Ryan Elias (Scarlets), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Rob Evans (Scarlets), Wyn Jones (Scarlets), Nicky Smith (Ospreys), Leon Brown (Dragons), Samson Lee (Scarlets), Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Blues), Jake Ball (Scarlets), Adam Beard (Ospreys), Bradley Davies (Ospreys), Seb Davies (Cardiff Blues), Taine Basham (Dragons), Ollie Griffiths (Dragons), Shane Lewis-Hughes (Cardiff Blues), Ross Moriarty (Dragons), Aaron Shingler (Scarlets), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Aaron Wainwright (Dragons).

Backs:

Aled Davies (Ospreys), Gareth Davies (Scarlets), Tomos Williams (Cardiff Blues), Sam Davies (Dragons), Jarrod Evans (Cardiff Blues), Willis Halaholo (Cardiff Blues), Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets), Owen Watkin (Ospreys), Owen Lane (Cardiff Blues), Josh Adams (Cardiff Blues), Steff Evans (Scarlets), Ashton Hewitt (Dragons), Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets), Hallam Amos (Cardiff Blues), Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets).

 

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