by Scarlets fan Tom Pritchard
IF there is something that Wales have lost in recent years, it’s that winning mentality. If there’s someone who has that winning mentality ingrained in them, it’s Wayne Pivac.
The Scarlets Head Coach was today unveiled as the replacement for Warren Gatland, who will step down after 12 years at the helm following the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Gatland will leave as the most successful Head Coach of Wales, so far having won three Six Nations titles, two of which were Grand Slams (2008 and 2012), as well as two Triple Crowns.
Under his guidance, Wales reached the semi-finals of the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and the quarter-finals in 2015.
The Hamilton-born coach, who has previously worked with Ireland, Wasps and Waikato has brought a lot of joy to fans of rugby in Wales. After he departs, it will be Pivac’s job to harness the talent in the squad and instil a winning mentality.
This is something that the former Waikato and Fiji coach has done before, of course, in his time at the Scarlets.
In the 2013/14 season, a year before Pivac arrived in Llanelli, the Scarlets finished a disappointing sixth in the Pro 12.
In his first full season in charge, the Scarlets would again finish in sixth place, picking up two points more (57) than the previous season.
The 2015/16 season saw a slight improvement again, as the West Wales side finished fifth on 63 points.
Whilst the team were steadily improving, disgruntlement was beginning to build amongst supporters who felt as if their team was under-performing.
But Pivac was beginning to build a competitive side. Players who fitted his criteria, not just in playing style, but also personality, started to arrive at Parc y Scarlets.
It isn’t just player signings where Pivac showed his shrewdness: he played an important role in bringing in Stephen Jones (backs coach), Byron Hayward (defence coach) and Ioan Cunningham (set piece coach) to his backroom staff; all have gone on to excel in their roles.
It was to be the 2016/17 season where the ex-Auckland policeman would show his true capabilities, guiding the Scarlets to their first league title since 2003/04.
Having lost the first three games of the season, there were calls for the Kiwi to leave, with the #PivacOut hashtag regularly appearing on Twitter.
However, this was to be an anomaly in a season where the Scarlets would light up the league with an eye-catching style of rugby, as well as grinding out victories in games where they were nowhere near their best.
The latter is only possible when a squad has the belief that it can win whatever the circumstances. This is where Pivac played a crucial role: he brought the New Zealand winning mentality with him, and was able to transfer it to his players.
How many times do we see New Zealand not playing so well, but having the ability to go up a gear and pull away from their opponents? This has been a characteristic of the Scarlets under Wayne Pivac.
This has also been a characteristic that Wales have been missing since their last Six Nations success in 2013.
In games where the other team have been there for the taking, too often Wales have been unable to finish them off. This is an area that Pivac will look to improve, for sure.
It is the top two inches where Wales have been lacking for too long. There has never been an issue with talent; for a country of our size, we actually do extremely well in that regard.
Yes, Pivac has improved the quality of the Scarlets team by bringing in players who are better than the ones they are replacing; but it’s the mentality and creative freedom which has allowed them to be where they are today.
For years, Wales have been too one-dimensional, this is something that will never be the case under Pivac, the fourth New Zealander to coach Wales after Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Warren Gatland.
The team will feel confident under his leadership, and not inhibited to one playing style.
These are exciting times for Wales: the squad depth is at a level where it probably hasn’t been before, the players are looking more comfortable playing an open brand of rugby and the arrival of Pivac brings so many reasons for positivity and optimism.
Is Pivac the right man to take Wales forward? Have your say here: