Despite the uncharted territory of a Wales coach losing at home to Italy, there is no indication that Wayne Pivac is about to lose his job just yet.
With his contract lasting until after next year’s World Cup, the likelihood is that the Welsh Rugby Union will back Pivac to guide them to France 2023 rather than put together a severance package. Nonetheless, it’s altogether easier to sack the coach rather than make the sweeping changes in Welsh rugby so many are demanding.
So what if the WRU did decide to bite the bullet? Who would be the candidates to replace Pivac just 18 months before a World Cup? And what would be the chances of Wales getting them?
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We assess the men who would be in the frame.
When the pressure first piled upon Pivac back in 2020, the rumour mill was going wild that the Crusaders boss was already on the plane over to Cardiff to sort things out. That didn’t materialise, but the former All Blacks flanker appears to be the favoured choice for those calling for Pivac’s head.
Since taking over the Canterbury side in 2017, he’s won five Super Rugby titles in as many years. Understandably, such a remarkable record has seen Robertson tied down to the Crusaders until 2024.
Speaking to Donal Lenihan earlier this year in the Irish Examiner, Robertson admitted that his next move would likely be into Test rugby rather than another club role, adding that it would probably be after the 2023 World Cup.
“I want to change how people think about coaching, how they do coach and to do that I’ll have to go to the Northern Hemisphere and get out of my comfort zone and understand how I can add to the current culture there.
“It would want to be after the World Cup, see what happens here with the All Blacks, you know, do I coach another club or do I coach a country? You know, why would I coach another club, I’m at the best club in the world.”
Clearly, the All Blacks job is the ultimate goal and Robertson wants to be well-placed to get the role should things go awry for New Zealand next year. But, with a World Cup on the horizon, would the carrot of taking Wales to France be too hard to resist?
And would the WRU be willing to buy Robertson out of his contract?
“I’m not advertising or trying to get a job but I would love to coach the Welsh rugby team,” Lam told the Scrum V podcast a couple of years ago. So, clearly, there’s an interest.
At the time of that comment, his Bristol Bears were quickly rising up the Gallagher Premiership – playing a brand of exciting rugby with their star-studded squad. However, things have gone a little awry this season.
Handed a seven-year deal at the start of this campaign – which would certainly be a stumbling block for the WRU – the Bears have struggled to reach the same heights for a number of reasons. Is Lam as attractive a prospect as a result? Perhaps not.
But he’s clearly a smart coach who has played a part in developing the likes of Welsh internationals Callum Sheedy and Ioan Lloyd. With his public plaudits for the Welsh game, he’d certainly be in the mix.
If you’re looking for Welsh candidates, then Young is probably the best bet. You could make a case for Robin McBryde given the work he’s doing with Leinster, but, bar a brief summer tour or two, he’s not got much experience in the head coaching role.
As for Young, he’s had plenty of time to hone his craft. Back in his second spell with Cardiff after some time with Wasps, he’s trying to build a squad at the Arms Park to match his achievements in his first spell.
Would he be the first name on the list for the WRU? Probably unlikely given the lack of silverware on his CV, but he’d certainly be a contender.
On the shortlist last time out, Boyd was snapped up by Northampton before Pivac took the job. He’s now leaving Northampton to head home to New Zealand, keen to be back with his family after a couple of pandemic-affected years.
But would the lure of the Welsh job be too great to turn down were the opportunity to arise? After all, Warren Gatland was able to get back to New Zealand relatively often when he was in charge.
During his time with Northampton, he’s certainly got the best out of Wales fly-half Dan Biggar and while the team have faded following some early progress under Boyd, he’s clearly a quality coach.
Another English club boss who could well be a good fit for Test rugby. Baxter has taken Exeter right to the top of European rugby – a remarkable feat however you look at it.
You sense there’s more road to run at Sandy Park for Baxter. But having been continually tipped as the next England coach, Wales might be tempted to nip in ahead of their rivals across the border.
Bear with us on this. Despite making himself relatively unlikable to many in the British Isles during last year’s Lions tour, Erasmus has always spoken glowingly about Wales.
Describing Wales in the Chasing the Sun documentary that charted their 2019 World Cup success, he said: “They are not softies. They’re not like Ireland.
“They’re not like England, who goes away. They are tough f*****s.”
The fact he was brought in to the Springboks setup 18 months before their World Cup success four years ago and the current PR work he’s doing to smooth things over in the northern hemisphere means there’s the odd strand of logic to this one.
Warren Gatland or Shaun Edwards
The one that some Welsh fans probably want more than anything. Might as well package them together given each feel just as unlikely, if we’re being realistic.
Would Gatland really bother to come back to Wales after more than a decade in the job? It’s hard to see, particularly as Eddie Jones’ position as England boss looks more and more unstable. He’s been made favourite to replace Jones if the RFU choose to act.
As for Edwards, why would he leave a France team that will undoubtedly be one of the favourites for next year’s World Cup? Right now, it doesn’t make sense – even if, sooner or later, someone should be offering him a head coach role.
A return for either seems a non-starter. More’s the pity, some might say.