Wales could go on the road to play Test matches if the Principality Stadium is still being used as a hospital when rugby resumes.
Head coach Wayne Pivac has revealed that other venue options are being considered – understood to be Cardiff City Stadium and Swansea’s Liberty Stadium – if the coronavirus pandemic still requires the Principality Stadium to remain a field hospital.
The team’s regular home in Cardiff is currently the Dragon’s Heart Hospital after being requisitioned by the NHS on April 20 to meet the increased demand for beds. It began to admit its first patients two days ago.
In a wide-ranging online press conference held on Wednesday afternoon, Pivac said plans were being discussed for the national team that involved alternative stadia.
“The Principality Stadium will be an emotional place to return to,” said Pivac, who also confirmed up top five players had contracted Covid-19, not just two or three as first thought.
“Prav Mathema, our head of medical, is involved on a sub-committee talking about what rugby will have to go through before we can train and play again. There are a lot of hoops to jump through.
“It’ll be nice when we do get back there, but when that is we simply don’t know. We have to work on scenario A and scenario B.
“One is we come back to play and the stadium is available, but we have to be prepared for another option if the hospital is still there, or there is a second wave of the virus.
“We’re not sure of timings. But I can assure you it’ll be a special day when we do get back to playing there.”
Pivac answered a host of questions about how he and his coaching and medical team are staying in touch with the national squad during the lockdown.
He explained that preparations are still going ahead for the proposed summer tour to Japan and New Zealand, but admitted it is looking unlikely the trip will go ahead as planned.
But he didn’t rule out playing against the All Blacks ‘Down Under’ later in the year if global travel is permitted.
Player welfare is uppermost in his mind at the moment and he believes it will take up to six weeks for the players to get ready to play again once they are able to get back to full training.
He was full of praise for the way in which his players and coaches have been helping in their communities and trying to make small differences to as many lives as possible.
He’s lost a bit of weight, learned new respect for teachers after attempting some home-schooling of his own and loved meeting everyone in his local community on his daily stroll.
This is what he had to say:
ON BEING IN LOCKDOWN
It started off as a bit of a novelty, but it fell through after about week four. I’m married with two twin 14-year-old step daughters, so I have become a bit of a teacher as well as what is going on with the rugby. There has been some adjustment there, I can assure you of that, and I have a new found respect for teachers and I guess the sooner they can get back to school the better.
There are a lot of things that are new and challenging. There is a lot of work going on from home because there are a lot of challenging things to consider. It has been a question of getting into a routines and once we did that things have run pretty smoothly for us at home. We set little goals and challenges every day.
ON THE FUTURE
I know as much as everybody else. We are in the hands of the Government aren’t we in terms of how our lives are run on a daily basis, let alone worrying too much about sport as this stage.
First and foremost it is giving back to our communities and then slowly getting back to what we see a normality, although whether we ever get back to 100 per cent of where we were who knows.
I’ve spoken to all the players in the Six Nations squad more than once since the lockdown and know who is well and who picked up an illness. About four or five players had symptoms like a cough or temperate, but nobody was required to go to hospital. They all dealt with it at home and have come out the other side.
What that is telling us is that you can be the fittest bloke in the world, but this thing is not going to discriminate. Young fit athletes can pick it up just like older people can. We have been fortunate that nobody has been seriously ill with the virus.
They do seem unlikely. As each week goes by that is getting more the case. It is a bit of a challenge, but as players, coaches and management we are preparing as if we are going ahead in July. That means players working from home until we are allowed to come in.
At least we aren’t falling behind anyone else in the world, because we are all in the same boat, but we are falling behind in terms of the normal training. To get back to playing games we have to get our strength and conditioning to a certain level. As soon as we got wind of the fact that we would all be staying at home we broke our gym down.
We have 40 Olympic bars and all 38 players have got one at home, along with some weights to work with. They have all been given programmes by Paul Stridgeon to get them through. These are adjusted every week.
What a difference a year makes! @RfcAbergavenny co-coach Simon Williams helped his side to National Plate glory a year ago and is now back @principalitysta playing a key role within the @CV_UHB Project Board for Dragon’s Heart Hospital 🙌#StaySafe 🌈 pic.twitter.com/0YjqIfBj1c— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) April 28, 2020
We are currently in an off-season phase and the players are having a bit of a break. Talking to them the feedback is they are feeling great for having the break. They have had pre World Cup camps, the World Cup and then came back into regional, European and international rugby. A lot of them were feeling beaten up, but they are now feeling good physically and mentally as we head into a pre-season phase.
ON WHAT IF NEW ZEALAND OPENS UP
Timings are different in different countries and New Zealand sat and watched what happened in different countries and had the benefit of hindsight to some degree. We are now benefiting by watching other countries come out of lockdown and seeing how that works. But in terms of the July tours, I can’t see how they will be treated any differently and I can’t see the borders being opened up before then. Certainly not in New Zealand the way they are talking down there. It will be a difficult one. I think where we can, we will keep the calendar pretty much the same, but those are just my thoughts.
ON A POTENTIAL INTERNATIONAL PILE-UP LATER IN THE YEAR
We’re preparing as if July is going ahead, but with a serious view that it may not. If games get pushed out, there is scenario where they will be postponed. We’ve looked at that as well. It could be we go to New Zealand a little later on in the season. If that’s pre-autumn, we’d have to play them, come back and the play another series of matches.
You could end up with the New Zealand matches, the game against Scotland, which needs to be completed because it is an important fixture, and then a full autumn programme in a period of weeks. Every nation will be in the same boat – it’s not that Wales would be singled out or face more games. It would be even across the board with the same preparation for all sides.
That would be something new. From a coaching point of view, and talking to the players, they just want to get back, as everybody does, to some sort of normality. As soon as they’re allowed to train they will.
Speaking to them now, if you asked them to play six or seven Test matches over eight to 10 weeks, then they’d relish the opportunity.
ON MEDICAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR A RETURN TO PLAY
These are the questions that are being asked at the moment. What Prav is going through different scenarios. Before we are allowed to get back together there will be certain things we are going to have to do. I don’t know 100 per cent what those things will be, but that’s what Prav is working on. It won’t be a question of going back and simply turning up for training and playing.
“We’re trying to give people in Port Talbot a story to connect with.”— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) April 28, 2020
How @AberavonRFC is leading a digital revolution in order to reach out to the community 📲 https://t.co/rw8ADQuxSI pic.twitter.com/z4FhvX5Frz
One would imagine there will be testing involved because you are asking to stay two metres apart, and to play a game of rugby, and those two sentences don’t go together. There will be something we will have to do to ensure we can go through the rugby process.
ON PLAYER WELFARE
Player welfare is 100 per cent uppermost in our minds. We are having discussions about the length of time we are away from training, which is longer than they would normally be away at the end of a season, so when we do get back together we will need to be very careful in how we work the players so we don’t bring on injury.
What we want to do is make sure that when we come back we can ramp up the volume as we go along. I would imagine it will be five to six weeks, although it will be the Bobby Stridgeons of this world who will put the final figure on it, before we are in a position to play rugby once we are allowed back into full training. These things all add up and it is going to be an interesting return.”
ON REGIONAL AND EUROPEAN RUGBY
There are discussions going on about how this season will look if we get the chance to play the games. There are a lot of ifs and buts and it will all be determined about when we are allowed back to play.
There are broadcasters involved and we need to make sure we are able to provide rugby when we are able to. What is the rugby they want to see? PRO14 play-off games or regional derby matches – there are a lot of different scenarios being looked at.
We would want to conclude the club championship if we could, and no doubt Europe will want to do the same. How that fits in with whatever amount of time we’ve got, who knows, but there are a lot of people doing a lot of work on how the season might finish. It’s not an easy landscape to work through.
ON POSSIBLE LONG TERM CHANGES TO RUGBY AFTER THE VIRUS
I think we’ve got a great opportunity in rugby to have a look at the global calendar, the global season if you like. It’s something that’s been discussed at different stages – the northern and southern hemispheres have their own views, individual countries have their own view and I guess look at it from their own perspective.
It’s been a very difficult question to answer, but I think what we have now is an opportunity as rugby people to sit down together and to do that. In the past there’s been the northern hemisphere playing rugby while the southern might have been off and vice-versa. It’s tricky to get everybody together and nut these things out. They do take time.
It’s not an easy question to solve, otherwise it would have been solved a long time ago. But I think now we do have that opportunity. I think the game might look a little bit different, certainly in the short term post COVID-19, so I think it’s a great opportunity and I think the global season is probably one we’d all like to see put under some scrutiny and see if we can come up with something that is suitable for both northern and southern hemisphere rugby.
ON PLAYERS COMING BACK TO WALES
We named 38 players, so if they remain in the country then there won’t be any room for others to come back. If one or two left, then there would be. I’ve had several conversations with Jonah Holmes, the last one two days ago. Jonah has a year to run on his Leicester Tigers contract and he is exploring his options.
One would be to remain there and look at his options after that period of time. Or the other would be to speak to Leicester Tigers, see if he can get out of that contract and what that would look like, with a club to bring him to Wales.
He is exploring all of those opportunities and I have been speaking with clubs in Wales and Jonah about this matter. I’d like to see him back whether it’s this season or next. I’d like to see him in Wales, which would help his selection, and also the squad, because if he’s not then he’s returning to England in fallow weeks.
Warren had a 38 strong playing pool and, looking at the last squad that he picked for the World Cup and at the way that we want to play the game and the skill sets required, it’s really been just tweaking rather than starting from scratch.
ON CALLING OFF WALES V SCOTLAND
Personally, I think Martyn Phillips, Gareth Davies and the Board made the right decision. Hindsight is an easy thing, but it was clearly the right decision. You’ve got to remember the Government were making the decisions around that time. The game wasn’t called off at Government level, it was left to the decision makers in Welsh rugby to come up with the decision they did. Clearly they made the right one and they should be applauded for that.
We trained as if the game was going ahead, which is what we needed do as professionals, until we were told otherwise. We were then told the game was off and everyone accepted that. Obviously what has happened has happened since and the lockdown came in pretty quickly, so we’re pleased that game didn’t go ahead.
It is mind blowing to think a number of weeks ago we were training at the Principality Stadium and there was a Captain’s Run the day before that game against Scotland was due to take place. We were also training at our base at the Vale of Glamorgan Hotel. Now both those places are hospitals.
It is a reality check and puts sports into perspective and rams home the enormity of what we are dealing with on a daily basis. It is unique times and amazing to see what has happened.
ON PLAYING BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
That would be an interesting one. Home advantage will be affected especially when you factor in not having a crowd of 75,000 people behind you. That is always worth a few points and helps the venue become a bit of a fortress. Take the crowd out and it becomes a different environment and more of a neutral venue.
If the hospital is still there, and we are back playing behind closed doors, we could end up playing at another venue. It is really important when we can play rugby we do so with the impact we have on communities. Even if you play behind closed doors you still have television and it is spectacle for people to view.
Legends’ advice for life under lockdown 🏠— sportwales (@sportwales) April 30, 2020
Two Welsh sporting heroes share their wisdom 💡 https://t.co/bQWxoscQnR
We have contracts we need to see through. It is a start point for rugby. Without crowds and hospitality it hurts financially, but if it is staged first of all behind closed doors before going back to full crowds that would at least be a start.”
Sport plays a huge part in our lives and Welsh rugby plays a massive part in the community and well-being of people in Wales. When you think about getting back to normality, and playing a Test match in front of 75,000 people, that would be amazing for Cardiff. We play a massive part in the community and productivity and can put a smile on people’s faces.
ON MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT FOR THE PLAYERS
The WRU has an HR department who have done a lot of research and put out a lot of articles to all of us, players and staff around dealing with all sorts of things from anxiety to sleepless nights, the whole spectrum of mental health. Apart from that, at the start of my tenure, we employed a sports psychologist who is also a clinical psychiatrist.
He is working on a daily basis with our staff and players. He is doing a lot of research, a lot of one on one stuff over the phone, video hook-ups, those sort of things. We are doing everything we can to get through this period. A lot of it is around getting into routines, goal-setting and having somebody to talk to when you are having tough times. There have been a couple of days there when I have picked up the phone and spoken to Dale Thomas, who’s our doctor. He has been excellent to talk to, just to bounce ideas off a lot of the time.
It is crucial the players have a lot of information and they know how to get to people if they need to for anything that is going on in their lives at this period of time.