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Wayne Pivac Q&A: The reasons for my surprise call-ups and my phone call with Scott Williams

Wayne Pivac has named his squad ahead of the autumn internationals

Exeter’s Christ Tshiunza was the surprise selection, while the likes of Thomas Young, Rhys Priestland, Ellis Jenkins and Gareth Anscombe were all recalled to the Wales squad after lengthy absences.

Here’s everything the Wales coach had to say…

You can see full details and reaction to the Wales squad here.

What made you thinkChrist Tshiunza isready for a call-up?

“In the selection, we’re looking at the here and now obviously but also at Rugby World Cup 2023. In Christ, we’ve got a young man who is obviously a great athlete. He’s got a good skill set on him.

“He obviously lacks gametime in senior rugby. He’s in a good place at Exeter in terms of working under Rob Baxter and what’s going on there. So really it’s a discussion I had with Christ post-U20s Six Nations.

Read more: Who is Christ Tshiunza, the teenage ‘specimen’ Wales just called up?

“We’d been monitoring him. He’s one that we believe is a 6 going forward, and he can also cover second row. He brings something nobody else in the country probably has in terms of height and athleticism. Really, it’s getting him involved now for his development.

“Whether he plays rugby in this series, time will tell. Certainly we want to get him in, around the senior players and get him in the environment.”

You’ve had special dispensation to pick Thomas Young but was picking him always the plan?

“It was something that has definitely been forced upon us. Under the 60-cap rule, we knew we couldn’t select Thomas. We’ve had six openside flankers go down with injury and be ruled out.

“On the weekend just gone, we went to watch Josh Navidi and he went down on the Saturday night. Then we were at the Scarlets game on Sunday and another seven, Dan Davis, went down. It’s been a perfect storm in that position.

“Thomas has form under his belt, playing in a strong league. He’s played international rugby for Wales before. He’s 29 years of age, he’s got the maturity. When you look at the opposition, we felt it was special circumstances for this particular competition.

“We’ve asked for the ability to select him and I’m very happy to say common sense has prevailed on this occasion.”

You’ve tried getting dispensation before with mixed results?

“We’ve asked on three occasions and on each occasion we’ve felt it’s been necessary to get the performances we need to help the team. This is no different.”

How good is it having Ellis Jenkins and Gareth Anscombe back?

“If you look at the standoff position and the 7 position, both players are probably not back to 100 per cent where they’d like to be, probably more around the 80 per cent mark.

“But if you look at the experience they have, the ability to play at this level and the job they’ve previously done, I think that’s counting for a lot in discussions.

“We’ve had lengthy discussions on both those players, spoke to both before naming them but also their club coaches. There’s been a bit of input from outside people just to make sure we’re not putting them out there when they’re at risk. They’ll be monitored accordingly.

“It’s not our intention to play those players throughout the whole campaign.”

More discussion around Gareth with fewer games under his belt?

“You’ve really got to look at it. Unfortunately Jarrod Evans has taken a knock after about 10 minutes of rugby in the season. So he hasn’t played. We look at summer form and previous form at international rugby.

“We look at what they’re doing in the here and now. Options at 10, a bit like 7, are a bit depleted. We’ve called on the experience Anscombe brings along with Rhys Priestland.”

Is it good having Rhys Priestland back in Welsh rugby?

“He’s enjoying being back in Wales and playing for Cardiff. He brings a wealth of experience. Parts of their game, both of them, are top drawer at the moment – goal kicking being one of them.”

What were the reasons behind picking Johnny McNicholl?

“When you look at the position and the players available, they can all cover wing and full-back. We think that Johnny McNicholl is probably the form player out of those guys.

“It really came down to a shoot-out with Owen Lane (and Jonah Holmes). We just felt, looking at the summer and the opening games, we felt Owen was doing a little bit more around the park.

“That’s not to say Jonah isn’t playing well, just that Owen has got the nod on this occasion.”

How is Liam Williams after having his appendix surgery?

“With Liam, he’s had the appendix removed. That was not the best timing for anybody – least of all Liam who is very disappointed. He is back and is being monitored. We won’t rush him back until he’s fully fit.”

How big a blow is it losing Josh Navidi?

“Really, really disappointing. The last time we had the luxury of playing Josh was in the Six Nations. We saw the impact he made. He is a top-class international rugby player, covers the whole back row.

“So to lose someone like him in that fashion, we just hope he makes a speedy recovery.”

Have all players you have picked been in top form? Your initial comments following the squad announcement seemed to suggest otherwise?

“We looked to see who is in better form than who. I don’t think any of the clubs will have been happy with their form last week.

“You only have to listen to players’ post-match interviews to see that. It’s an early time in the season. Some rugby players aren’t hitting their straps. There’s no doubt about that.

“In some positions, we’re saying we’re picking between two or three players and really we’re not happy with the form of all of those players.

“We look at their form in the summer series, whether good, bad or indifferent, and the Six Nations and what part they played there.”

How big a challenge is it facing New Zealand without your England-based players?

“I don’t think challenges in rugby get any bigger than that. I just want to make the comment that there’s a lot of talk about why we’re playing them at that time and if it lessens the occasion.

“The occasion, first and foremost, for these players and management is going to be huge. We’ve all missed playing in front of live crowds and having a sell-out at the Principality Stadium is exciting for everyone that is involved.

“To have the best two teams in the world, the All Blacks and then the Springboks a week later, challenges don’t get any bigger. If you’re a player, I guess you’re looking at it thinking there’s a huge opportunity for me to perform on this stage and put myself in a good position for selection further down the track.

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“When you’re just under two years out from a World Cup, players are focused on coming into international rugby and performing and hoping they impress and stay in the side for the coming months. It is going to be a big task.

“60 odd years of history will tell you that with everybody available at times. The reason for having this game, I wholeheartedly agree with, is that we need funding. We’re in the situation we’re in.

“Without this funding it would be a lot tougher on clubs, players and the union to proceed the way we would like to.”

Will this game against New Zealand test the depth you’re looking to build?

“The original thoughts on this November series was that we wanted to tighten down on the players used and really drill down to 40-45 players from here on to the World Cup.

“But as we’ve seen with the injuries we have had and players who are unavailable we’re going to look at more players than we anticipated so it’s a great opportunity for those players and that’s the way we’re looking at it.”

How close are you to the team and style of play you want?

“On paper we are very close. The trick now is getting everyone fit and healthy at the same time, as long as that happens at the World Cup I’ll be really happy but you can’t forecast what’s going to happen to players playing this contact sport.

“We know we’ve got a wish list of players, but those players need to maintain form close to the World Cup and also be fit and available.”

How good is it having full crowds back?

“Out in the community anyone we bump into is so excited, yes they’d like to see the full Six Nations champions squad playing the All Blacks but I think everyone is just excited to get to the venue.

“Players like Callum Sheedy have played about 10 Tests now but haven’t played in front of this sort of crowd and having that experience.

“The older players talk about it. I heard Jonathan Davies said some time ago talking around how he couldn’t wait for the crowds to get back, and I think that’s the same for everyone – players, management and supporters.

“And for that fact alone I can’t wait for the day to come, having the crowd back will be magnificent.”

Another word on Thomas Young – what does he gives you as a player?

“We need experience, there’s going to be a lot of youth in this squad with the injuries.

“Ellis Jenkins brings some experience, he’s played against these opponents, so he brings that knowledge in with him.

“And Thomas has played at a high level of rugby and is a form player, so I think those two are welcome additions.

“We will just have to see how they come in with a couple of club games to go.”

After the latest news, can you explain why was Cory Hill initially selected in the summer?

“He was initially selected in the summer on the basis there was an inquiry being looked at.

“I don’t want to dwell on this but the immediate action we took in the squad was to remove him from leadership roles until we got to the bottom of what was happening.

“Then when he spoke with me he was removed from camp immediately.”

Will Gareth Anscombe and Rhys Priestland be considered at full-back against New Zealand?

“We’re aware both can play full-back but it’s not our intention to do that.”

Can you elaborate on Johnny Williams’ selection with Scott Williams being left out?

“We’re pleased to have Johnny back, we had him in the Autumn Series and in the Six Nations and the games he played in and around the training environment he was excellent.

“He comes in in the knowledge he’s performed well at this level in this environment in recent times so we’re pleased to see him back and injury free.”

“Scott Williams has been a turnaround, he’s had two years out in the wilderness with injuries that have plagued him, so it’s just good to see him back playing.

“I’ve spoken with him, we’re happy with his progress and we will be monitoring him and funny things can happen.

“We’ve got a couple rounds of club rugby then four massive Tests matches so to those players the message is keep working hard as you don’t know what’s around the corner.”

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