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The Wayne Pivac Q&A: We may have just found Alun Wyn Jones’ successor

Having named his 34-man squad for the summer Tests against Canada and Argentina, Wales head coach Wayne Pivac then faced the press to explain his choices.

This is what he had to say.

Question: Can you talk us through your thinking with your squad selection?

Wayne Pivac: Obviously, we’ve got a lot of players away with the British and Irish Lions.

That’s the first point – 10 players unavailable – and some injuries as well, so there was always going to be some new caps.

We’re always excited when we’re able to bring some new players in. It’s building the depth of the squad.

If you look at what we’ve got coming up over the next 24 months, leading into the World Cup, this is the logical window to have that last look, I guess, in games which from our point of view are exciting.

We’ve got a pretty hefty autumn series, by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t think that’s the place to blood too many young fellas.

Then we’ve got a Six Nations where we’re obviously trying to defend a title and then three Tests in South Africa.

So if you look at the next 12 months, this is the time to do it, we believe.

It’s very similar to the autumn series we had. We think this is the time to look at building the extra depth that’s going to be required.

Q: Looking at the three uncapped forwards – Gareth Thomas, Ben Carter and Taine Basham – what’s impressed you about them?

WP: Gareth Thomas is a big man. Rhys Carre is the unfortunate one this time around.

We’ll have a conversation with Rhys around reinforcing the discussions we had when he was in the squad in the Six Nations in terms of his development and what we need to see. A bit like Adam Beard, really. It’s an opportunity to go away, have a big off-season, come back.

In terms of Gareth, he’s another big man. He’s improved his scrummaging and his all-round playing. I think this is a golden opportunity for us to have a look at him to see how he goes at this level of the game.

I think Ben Carter is a fabulous young player. For a young guy that’s stepped in the Dragons team, he’s earned a lot of starts and Dean’s worked him really well.

He’s shown that he’s got a very big future in the game.

When you look at long-term replacements for Alun Wyn, I think he’s a young man that has shown all the credentials.

Taine Basham, we’ve had before in the squad.

He broke his arm, had some injuries along the way, but the way the game’s going now at the breakdown, the way it’s being refereed, there’s not a lot of turnovers.

I think now we’ve got to have ball-players, guys who can carry, guys that can get us over the gain line. I think, as a seven, he certainly can do that.

He’s shown that in club rugby. He’s done well coming off the bench and who knows, he may get an opportunity off the bench for us.



Ben Carter in action against Wasps

Q: Turning to the uncapped backs – Ben Thomas and Tom Rogers – what has caught your eye there?

WP: The X-factor they can bring and the fact both of them can play in more than one position.

Ben obviously has been a 10, been tried in the midfield and played a lot of games now at 12. I think he’s got a skill set to even play at 13.

He’s a young guy that we want to see up close and see what he can do in our environment.

Also, Tommy Rogers is exactly the same.

The guy has a bit of X factor.

Certainly, both players are not the finished product by any stretch of the imagination.

That’s why we’re bringing them in now to have a closer look at them, to give them some work-ons and hopefully they’ll go away and just keep improving their rugby with their clubs after this series.

Q: With the recalls for Rhodri Williams and Josh Turnbull, is that a reward for regional form?

WP: Yes, I think so, and also we need to get the blend of experience and youth right.

In Rhodri’s position at scrum-half, you’ve obviously got Rhys Webb back from injury, a very experienced player and we know what Webby can do.

I had a good chat with Lloyd Williams this morning [Monday]. We know what Lloyd can do.

Both of those guys are going to be entrenched in their 30s come World Cup time.

So, for us, it’s really having a last opportunity to have a look at Rhodri as well.



Dragons scrum-half Rhodri Williams whips the ball away

Then we’ll probably cast the net in terms of the nines we think the World Cup group will come from, unless there’s a young bolter over the next 24 months who comes through and forces their way in.

With Josh Turnbull, I think it’s very similar to Dan Lydiate.

He’s shown some good form for his club, brings a lot of experience, has played Test rugby before.

Then when you look at the guys that are unavailable through both injury and selection to the Lions, there was always going to be some change there.

I think with Ross Moriarty coming back in, and a guy like Josh, and the loose forwards in particular, it gives us a little bit more edge.

Obviously, Shane Lewis-Hughes is injured, Aaron Shingler’s come back from a long lay-off. There are some players there that have been unlucky with injury as well.

Q: Is the door still open for Rhys Webb and Lloyd Williams at scrum-half?

WP: Dan Lydiate is a prime example. If you’re working hard and your form is good enough, the opportunity comes and you’ve got to be ready to take it.

We felt he had worked really, really hard, ticking a lot of boxes and when the opportunity came we didn’t hesitate in selecting him.

I guess that message goes out to all the players that are 30-plus and haven’t been selected.

It’s not the end of the world. Things can change pretty quickly.

Q: You have chosen Jonathan Davies as your captain. How is he coping with Lions disappointment?

WP: As you’d expect, he’s a true pro.

He’s disappointed like anyone would be.

At his age, it’s his last opportunity for the Lions. We don’t know what’s around the corner. There’s already been one change, so who knows, there could be more with the amount of games due to be played.

Certainly, he’s disappointed. But he loves putting on the Welsh jersey.

When I gave him the phone call [on Sunday], it was the dreaded phone call within 24 hours of naming a squad. He thought he was being left out, I think.

Certainly, he was over the moon with being given the opportunity to lead the side.

It’s an honour and a privilege and he’s looking forward to taking on that role.

Q: Was Owen Watkin available for selection?

WP: Yeah.

Look he’s had some niggles, he’s had some injuries. I’ve had a good chat to Owen, Stephen’s had a chat to him as well.

He’s a player that will benefit from a big off season.

Coming back, he’s got Michael Collins coming into the same club, there’ll be competition for places.

I think we just need to see a bit more out of him on attack. That’s the message that he’s been given.

He’s a solid enough player, we know that.

It’s an opportunity to learn about some of the others and with a slightly smaller squad, he’s one of the casualties.

But, certainly, he knows if he shows the right form, then the autumn is just around the corner.

Q: How close was Jac Morgan to making the squad?

WP: We’ve been tracking him. He’s a good solid player.

He’s new to club rugby at the top level.

The other boys have probably just got a year or two on him. In our opinion, they are just that slight bit ahead in terms of experience at this level of the game.

It’s another step up obviously into Test match level.

He’s just going to have to keep working hard at his game.

He’s a good young player and he’s one that no doubt we’ll hear more about in the future.

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Q: Were there any other players who you would have considered but couldn’t pick because of injury?

WP: Obviously Gareth Anscombe is one we would liked to have seen come back.

The right decision has been made there. Everybody’s got their heads together. The Ospreys are doing a good job with his rehab now. He’s goal-kicking, he’s ticking most of the boxes.

It’s about him having an off-season where nothing is hindering him and he is doing everything he needs to do to hit the ground running at the start of the season.

That’s exciting for Gareth.

Rhys Patchell is one. When you look at the 10s, he’s one that’s been out a long time. Unfortunately, he’s come back and had some niggles with leg injuries.

Those players have run out of time.

Ellis Jenkins is one that we were monitoring as well.

He came back from his serious lay-off. Unfortunately, he’s picked up a few niggles as well.

There are a few guys that are definitely under the microscope and we’re looking very closely at. We won’t stop monitoring those players.

We need the deepest pool of players that we can get the closer we get to 2023.

Q: How are your viewing the challenge this summer?

WP: Argentina are probably at the best they’ve been for many, many years.

It’s going to be a huge test for us, for the squad that gets the opportunity to play in those two matches.

Canada will be a good first-up game for us, to put a team out and get back into the groove, and then there are going to be two big Test matches where we’ll learn a lot about the new players and some of the players that will have to step up into leadership roles that haven’t necessarily been in leadership roles in the past.

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