The dreadful streak of results, which includes last week’s embarrassing defeat by Georgia, is as much a result of quarreling Blazers and declining standards in schooling as it is of the Kiwi overseeing the national team
The Welsh Rugby Union will have a new chairman next week. The Wales national team could also be looking for a new head coach next week, judging by the darkest words from the rumor mill.
Wayne Pivac has come under critical fire since last week’s bitter home loss to Georgia. A win against Australia on Saturday might save face, but not Pivac’s job. And that just two weeks after Wales defeated Argentina, who had just defeated England.
Sam Warburton, Jamie Roberts, Gwyn Jones and Graham Price – former Welsh stars whose careers stretch back to the 1970s – lined up to make up for the team’s lack of fighting power and strength in the 13-12 loss to the Georgians, who are now are 13th to be detailed in the world, while Wales has fallen to ninth place.
The result was accompanied by another first when Wales lost at home to Italy last March, and Pivac’s men have won just three of 11 games this calendar year, and 13 of 33 since Warren Gatland guided Wales to the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup. As he then handed the reins to Pivac, Gatland delivered a chilling message: “It would break my heart if Wales got into the doldrums again.”
Amid the current feverish atmosphere, Pivac’s 2021 Six Nations win is being attributed to luck and the 50-year-old Kiwi is being hoisted by his own petard for not delivering the expansive style he previously cultivated with regional team Scarlet. Another Kiwi, the Crusaders’ Scott Robertson, is favored by some to parachute to the 2023 Rugby World Cup in 10 months, where Wales will be pooled with, guess who, Georgia and Australia, as well as Fiji and Portugal.
Robertson, who aspires to an international job, was impressed while attending the almost ritualistic win over New Zealand, 55-23, in Cardiff three weeks ago. He said a few days later: “[With] the passion and the hype and everything behind it – how do I put that diplomatically? – there are many ways to be successful.”
Pivac’s response this week was to speak of players “rolling up their sleeves” as he brought back 37-year-old Alun Wyn Jones to start a game in which England-based players like Louis Rees-Zammit, Nick Tompkins and Christ playing Tshiunza are unavailable.
A similar work ethic metaphor was used by outgoing Wales Rugby Union chairman Rob Butcher when he asked permission to remove his jacket to address members at the annual general meeting on the last Sunday in October. The main event, held at the Parkgate Hotel in Cardiff, a new WRU money-making joint venture, was a progressive step towards installing an independent chair, but it did not achieve the required 75 per cent support. Critics say this has perpetuated undue grassroots influence, as representatives from amateur clubs and districts dominate the WRU board.
Others say the motion showed the Union wants change. A professional game board exists to deal with the elite, but is subordinate to the board. Butcher, who resigned earlier this month, is set to be replaced next week by either Ieuan Evans or Anthony Buchanan, both former internationals.
Warburton installed the entire system The timeswrites: “The aim has to be for a region to win the European Cup and for Wales to win the World Cup… then you can watch everything that comes off that. [But] I don’t think the WRU trusts the regions with their money and then the regions don’t want to own the WRU because their governance is so old-fashioned.”
These are the horns of the dilemma. Three of the regional teams – Scarlets, Cardiff and Ospreys – are privately owned. They need more investment and are keeping an eye on the money CVC is investing in the Six Nations, but the WRU are understood to be reluctant to invest without more say in what the regions are doing. Hence standstill.
Underneath all of this, the path for players is through schools and academies – and the latter are controlled by the regions. Lyn Jones, who has coached both the Ospreys and WRU’s own Dragons, narrated I this week: “When I watch Wales play it seems like we play to a heavy structure and preconceived ‘coding’. We’re not getting the breaks or yards we’ve had in previous seasons – although I still think we’ll beat Australia.
“There is a lack of quality that goes back to the schools. Welsh rugby used to be good with the level of coaching in our comprehensive schools. It has worsened since the 1980s and continues to decline. Boys should already have the basics before coming to the region. The WRU has done a really good job with the academies [before the regions took over]. Why the change? Unfortunately, we don’t always employ the best trained coaches for our youngsters.”
Pivac is not the first company to face these challenges. Holy Gatland had nine losses and meager Six Nations years in 2010. Romania, Samoa and Canada have all humiliated Wales at home in the past. Australia, currently 25 players short, face their worst calendar year since 1958 when they concede their 10th defeat in 14 games on Saturday.
Pivac will be in France on Sunday to check the World Cup facilities. England’s Eddie Jones did the job a couple of months ago – but the two men share a belief that the only way they will be measured is the World Cup. Pivac said this week: “I honestly think so with eight weeks together [next summer]we’re going to improve a hell of a lot.”