By David Williams
Wayne Pivac will know that whatever allowances may have been made for Wales’ poor performance in 2020 will not extend into this year’s Six Nations as he looks for improvement in all areas, but maintains his side are in a “good space”.
Wales won just three of their 10 Tests last year, with those successes coming against Italy [twice] and Georgia.
It was a huge step backwards from the form of the previous two seasons under Warren Gatland, but a change to a more ball-in-hand style and injuries to key individuals have been a factor.
“During that last campaign there was a lot talked about us defensively and we made a change there [after losing defence coach Shaun Edwards]. But there were other areas of our game that didn’t function,” Pivac said.
“Clearly, the set-piece was an issue. We’re doing a lot of work on that to make sure we have a platform to operate.
“No matter what you do in attack, if you don’t have the platform to launch from then it makes things very difficult. So to improve in that area is a big drive for us.”
Pivac will be able to call on experienced campaigners in hooker Ken Owens and back row Josh Navidi, who return from injury and should be available for their 2021 season opener against Ireland in Cardiff on 7 February.
“Those players have played a big role in the past and are very experienced. We’re in a good space,” he added.
Captain Alun Wyn Jones is hoping to be fit for the Ireland match and believes the side will be more settled this season and should be considered potential Six Nations winners.
“We’re over 12 months into a change in regime and we’ve experienced a bit of everything. We saw a lot of new caps in the autumn series but we come into this campaign with a strong squad,” he said.
“Any captain sitting here is going to say they want to win the championship.”
Pivac received support from England coach Eddie Jones on Wednesday, who urged the Welsh Rugby Union to show patience with him.
“I think it’s always hard to change styles, particularly when you’ve been successful,” Jones said.
“A team’s style is a compromise between a coach’s ideology and the players’ potential, and you try to find the right sweet spot for that, where the players can be at their best and as a coach you have ideas on how you want to play the game.
“Sometimes it takes longer and I’m sure Wayne will find that right balance and the team will flourish.”
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton said his latest injury problem is “not major” and he hoped to be fit for the opener with Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
The virtual Six Nations media launch is off to a superb start https://t.co/ZWmvGN9DXM
— Rúaidhrí O’Connor (@RuaidhriOC) January 27, 2021
Fly-half Sexton, who suffered hamstring issues at the back end of last year, limped off during Leinster’s Pro14 win over Munster on Saturday.
“Any time you get a little niggle like that it’s very frustrating because I trained hard to make sure that didn’t happen and it did at the time I didn’t want it to happen, which is somewhat typical,” said Sexton.
“It’s not major and hopefully I will be back training by the end of the week and hopefully be fit for the Wales game.
“It can be frustrating when you pick up these things but it is a tough game to get through now.
“I was in a good place before the Munster game, so I won’t let it get me down too much and just get back on the horse and hopefully I will be firing next week.”
Ulster back Jacob Stockdale was a notable omission from head coach Andy Farrell’s 36-man squad due to a knee injury.
Farrell said he expected Stockdale to miss the opening two games of the tournament but felt he may be fit to return for the trip to Italy in round three.