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The brutal tactic and 18 new players Wayne Pivac has brought to the Wales team

“The only person certain of boarding the coach for the Littlewoods Cup final is Albert Kershaw, and he’ll be driving it.”

It was the way the late football manager Brian Clough did things.

No player could ever feel sure of himself in a squad run by Clough.

Wayne Pivac is light years removed from the legendary egomaniac in terms of temperament and the way he runs his teams.

But he does have a streak in him which keeps players on their toes.

Most of his squad or team announcements tend to come with a call that surprises — in some cases, shocks — more than a few, with a player who might have considered himself established all of a sudden left out.

But in most cases, it doesn’t mean the end for that particular individual.

In several instances, Pivac has kept track of the man he’s demoted; if the response is a good one in the coach’s eyes, there will be a recall.

More often the not, players have returned to the fold better than they were before they were dropped.

Some would see it as a brutal tactic.

But it hits home the message that no-one’s place is guaranteed.

For exhibit A m’lud, we must consider the case of George Phillip North.

There he was, all set to make his 100th Test appearance, in the rescheduled Six Nations match against Scotland of autumn 2020.

But an off-key performance against France in a friendly saw Pivac drop the long-time fixture from the matchday 23. It was the first time for North to be omitted in such a way over a decade-long Test career.

Sentiment didn’t come into it.

“It was quite an easy call, really,” Pivac said at the time.

“We were all on the same page in selecting him to face France, but not every selection comes off and on this particular occasion George didn’t play his best game of rugby. It’s as simple as that.

“Was it a hard decision to leave him out? No it wasn’t.

“Will he have the ability to play his way back in? Yes he will because of what we do in training.”

North responded as Pivac wanted.

He returned to the Ospreys and came up with some of the best form of his career. In five rounds of Guinness PRO14 matches, he appeared in the league’s team of the week four times.

No other player featured in the all-star selections more than twice over the same period.

“George is a player who responds well to a lot of positivity and we helped prepare him psychologically,” Ospreys head coach Toby Booth said after North’s return to favour.

“It was about pressing the reset button mentally and getting back to what he could control.”

So well did the big man play for Wales in the Six Nations that he appeared certain to tour with the British and Irish Lions, only for an injury to cruelly dash his hopes.

Then there’s Adam Beard , similarly on the wrong end of an uncompromising call, in his case one which saw him dropped completely from Wales’ autumn squad.

Like North, he didn’t sulk.

Like North, he dusted himself down and resolved to win his place back.

He then went on to hit a purple patch for the Ospreys and play a key role in the Six Nations, helping to put right a previously misfiring Welsh lineout, and has since been called up by the Lions with a Test place potentially within his reach this summer.

We can go on.

On Saturday against Argentina, Nick Tompkins starts a Test for the first time since early February after falling out of favour midway through the Six Nations. It’s reward for his relentless optimism and the energy he has brought off the bench this summer. At no stage has his head dropped over the past five months.

READ MORE: Tompkins reveals regrets and why he’s so much better now he’s returned to Saracens

Jarrod Evans hasn’t started for Wales since the first match of Pivac’s reign, during an uncapped match against the Barbarians. He’s also worked at his game and is in the run-on side against Argentina this weekend.

Elliot Dee also encountered Pivac’s axe, left out for the autumn games, only for an injury to Ken Owens to prompt a recall. This summer, he’s been Wales’ starting hooker.

“Looking back at the autumn, it was tough to not get picked straight away in the squad. It was probably a bit of a kick up the ar*e that I needed,” Dee says now.

“I didn’t really get complacent but I think sometimes when you’re always getting picked or always there, you sort of stop working day to day and maybe miss those one percents.

“It made me refocus and sit down and evaluate what I wanted from my career and from the game.

“It was good for me. It was a good kick up the backside and made me really think about where I want to go, how far and how much work I need to keep putting in week on week to get there.”



Wales and Dragons man Elliot Dee

He continued: “I was aware I probably wasn’t playing the best rugby of my career.

“I wasn’t aware of Wayne’s thinking.

“I was aware that I was in and around the mix, doing OK but not putting my hand up every week to get picked.

“No way did I think I was nailed on to get picked. I knew there were things I had to work on.

“It was a bad experience that turned out to be a good one in the end, just made me think about how hard I need to work and not to look too far ahead.

“It made me have a long, hard think about what I needed to work on and how I could improve and come back stronger.”

It suggests no-one should give up hope under Pivac.

He had been watching Rhys Webb when the scrum-half was injured playing for the Ospreys against the Dragons in March. Had Webb avoided the bump, there’s a reasonable chance he would have made the summer squad, form permitting.

The game is far from up for Owen Watkin , too, after his omission for the Tests with Canada and Argentina.

Pivac has told him he wants to see more from him in attack. If he obliges, there’s a strong chance he’ll return for the autumn. If he doesn’t, he’ll stay on the regional scene.

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Assuming Matthew Screech takes the field against Argentina, New Zealander Pivac will have handed out 18 new caps in his reign to date as he seeks to widen Wales’ player pool heading for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

One, Louis Rees-Zammit , has gone on to feature for the Lions.

Tompkins, Will Rowlands , Callum Sheedy , James Botham , Sam Parry , Willis Halaholo and Kieran Hardy will all have been involved this summer after previously making Test debuts.

Ioan Lloyd hasn’t featured in this batch of internationals despite being part of the squad.

Shane Lewis-Hughes and Johnny Williams have had injuries, while Johnny McNicholl has also had untimely bumps and is out of the squad.

New faces of late are Gareth Thomas , Ben Carter , Taine Basham , Tom Rogers and Ben Thomas , with Screech set to add to the list.

All have had opportunities pushed their way.

And all should know if they fall out of favour there could still be a way back under this coach, provided they come up with the desired response.

That last bit matters.

A lot.

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