By David Williams
Ken Owens has paid tribute to head coach Wayne Pivac ahead of Wales’ final push for the Guinness Six Nations title and a fifth Grand Slam.
Wales stand on the verge of conquering European rugby once more, with Pivac’s team transformed from one that claimed just three Test match victories last year.
If they beat France in Paris – something Wales have achieved on three of their last four Six Nations visits – then it would complete a startling recovery.
And Wales hooker Owens believes that Pivac deserves considerable credit in just his second season at the helm since succeeding Warren Gatland.
“It has obviously been a tough transition for him stepping into the job after the great work Gats did over the last 10 years,” 81 times-capped Owens said.
“It was never going to be an easy job and there have been some teething problems early on.
“But I think he has stuck to his guns, believed in his philosophy and tweaked things along the way.
“We look at things after every campaign and I am just glad he has backed the squad, backed the players and backed the management.
“The players and staff have done the same with him and we’ve got an ‘all in it together’ mentality. Fortunately we have got some results on the board and hopefully we are on the verge of a bit of history.”
Owens was part of Wales’ Grand Slam triumphs in 2012 and 2019 and he knows that this week’s build-up must be business as usual.
“I think it is just keeping our focus and not getting sucked into all the outside talk about what is riding on the game,” he added. “All the boys will know that.
“We need to make sure we get the intensity right in training and maintain plenty of energy.
“We are going to have to hit the ground running, because France started quickly against England. We’ve got to be ready for whatever they throw at us.”
Wales saw off final hurdle opponents France to win the Grand Slam in 2008 and 2012 and, while Wales have never lost a Six Nations clean-sweep decider, all four previous games were in Cardiff.
“It’s a slightly different challenge to the ones most of us have experienced before when we’ve been in Cardiff and had a real electric energy from the crowd,” Owens said.
“It (the game being played behind closed doors at Stade de France) may take away the home advantage slightly, but it is still going to be a tough game.
“France still have title ambitions of their own. They will be going back to Paris looking to get a result to keep their championship hopes alive.”
Wales finished fifth in last year’s Six Nations, their only victory at home to Italy, which underlines the level of turnaround Pivac has overseen.
“After the England game (when Wales won the Triple Crown), I was driving through the village, the sun was out and there was a spring in people’s steps,” Owens added.
“What it makes you realise as players is the effect we can have on people.
“In the last month or so, we’ve managed to get some good results, which has given people something to smile and cheer about, and hopefully we can continue to do that.”