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Six Nations: Wales coach Wayne Pivac hopes to complete ‘fantastic’ Grand Slam turnaround

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Wales coach Wayne Pivac spent five years at Scarlets before taking over from Warren Gatland in 2019
Wales coach Wayne Pivac spent five years at Scarlets before taking over from Warren Gatland in 2019
Venue: Stade de France, Paris Date: Saturday, 20 March Kick-off: 20:00 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, 5 Live, BBC Sounds, BBC Sport website and app, S4C
Highlights: Scrum V, Sunday, BBC Two Wales, 21 March, from 19:00 GMT and later on demand

Wayne Pivac admits completing his first Six Nations Grand Slam would be “fantastic” after becoming used to the fickle nature of Welsh rugby.

Pivac only won three out of 10 Test matches in his first year in charge but has overseen a transformation in 2021 with four victories.

Victory in Paris will seal what has been regarded by some as the unlikeliest of Grand Slams.

“It would mean everything,” said Pivac.

“I have been living for coming up to seven years now in Wales, so you understand what it means to the country and what it can do to productivity.

“I noticed walking round the golf course on our day off, the amount of people that were saying good luck for the weekend, they are very supportive.

“That changes quickly from the autumn to now. To understand what it can do to people, we will give it our best shot to try to get the ultimate prize.

“Winning the Grand Slam and championship would be fantastic. If we end up finishing second it would be a big improvement but we are going there to win.”

Life was always going to be initially tough for Pivac as he replaced fellow New Zealander Warren Gatland who had overseen three Grand Slam successes and two World Cup semi-finals during 12 years in charge.

Pivac has referenced the criticism he received in 2020 when Wales finished fifth in the Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup competitions.

It all seems part of the master plan of blooding young players and waiting for experienced players like Ken Owens and Josh Navidi to return from injury with Wales now boasting a starting side with almost 1,000 test caps, the most in their history.

So were those critics too quick to judge?

“Possibly, but it goes with the territory,” said Pivac.

“The same thing happened with the Scarlets. It took me a while to get that machine rolling, and ultimately we had some success.

“People will always have their opinions, and rightly so. They support the team and put a lot of faith in what we do.

“So if things don’t go well, questions get asked. I’m not bothered by that in the slightest. When I watch other sports, I’m probably quite critical as well. It’s human nature isn’t it?

“As coaches when you’ve been doing it a while you draw back on experiences.

“It might be at different levels, but I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with some good teams and had some good results.

“There are always highs and lows. This group of players and coaches have kept believing.

“As I said throughout the autumn, I would be more concerned if it wasn’t a happy camp.

“You look at the environment you have off the field and that speaks volumes of where the team is at.

“It wasn’t for a lack of hard work. There were a lot of circumstances which we put in place which didn’t help the results. We’re aware of that, and had a big picture in mind which was the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

“It doesn’t always look like that from the outside possibly, but we know where we have to improve and the improvements we’ve made.”

Wales have enjoyed their share of luck with the opening two victories over Ireland and Scotland achieved against 14 men, while there were two controversial tries awarded against England.

The argument of fortune fails to recognise the 17 tries scored in four games or a record 40 points tally amassed against England.

Pivac has also made some tough decisions, parting ways with his defence coach and long-time ally Byron Hayward last November with Gethin Jenkins taking over the duties.

He dropped George North during the autumn campaign and then brought him back into the fold and switched him from wing to centre.

The coach also blooded young players like Kieran Hardy, Louis Rees-Zammit, Callum Sheedy and James Botham who have featured prominently in this Six Nations campaign.

Pivac believes the players deserve the credit in the turnaround.

“I’ve been impressed,” said Pivac.

“Ultimately, they are the ones who pull the jersey on, go out there and throw themselves into some dark places.

“Our job is just to get them ready to go, and hopefully we’ve done a good job.

“You want to win things. That’s what we’re here for, but it’s also about how you develop players, watch them improve and we’re starting to see young fellas develop.

“Like Louis Rees-Zammit, from not playing Six Nations last year to where he is now. Seeing that growth is worth its weight in gold.”

France lie in the way of Wales with Fabien Galthie’s side the only other team still with a chance of winning the tournament.

“We are in a good space but are not the finished article,” said Pivac.

“France are a very good side and they have done a fantastic job in improving since the World Cup.

“It’s two teams starting to play some good rugby that makes for a mouth-watering final match.”

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