Find out about the man who took over as Wales coach after the 2019 World Cup, Wayne Pivac

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Who Is New Wales Coach Wayne Pivac?

Wayne Pivac took over as Wales coach following the 2019 Rugby World Cup, when Warren Gatland left his role after more than ten years at the helm.

Pivac is the latest Kiwi to hold the role, with previous Wales coaches including Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Gatland, and it marks his return to coaching at the international level after a stint with the Fiji team from 2004 to 2007.

After working in the Pacific Islands, Pivac returned home to New Zealand to coach at provincial level before becoming Scarlets head coach in 2014 and winning the Pro14 in 2017.

Those are the basics – want to know more? Rugby World spoke to the coach before the Six Nations for our March 2020 issue of the magazine to find out more about Wayne Pivac. Here’s what we found out…

Exclusive Interview with Wayne Pivac

Buying presents can be a tricky business. What’s the perfect Christmas gift for your dad when he’s embarking on a new job? Matthew Pivac obviously felt a little advice from the predecessor would go down well. “He got me Warren Gatland’s book,” says new Wales coach Wayne Pivac with a wry smile. “That’s his sense of humour.”

There’s nothing like a reminder of the size of the shoes you’re filling as you prepare for your first Six Nations campaign. Pivac is all too aware of how successful Gatland’s 12-year Wales reign was – three Grand Slams the standout achievements – but he is also excited by the challenge of building on such successful foundations.

The 57-year-old has included a wealth of international experience in his back-room team, with four former Wales captains part of the set-up in Stephen Jones, Jonathan Humphreys (assistants), Sam Warburton (technical adviser) and Martyn Williams (manager). Yet he is missing key figures on the pitch – Gareth Anscombe, Jonathan Davies and Tomas Francis are just three of those unavailable for the championship due to injury.

Still, this is a new World Cup cycle and Pivac has the chance to put his own stamp on proceedings, picking five uncapped players in his Six Nations squad. So what can we expect from the New Zealander? The exciting brand of rugby he instilled at Scarlets saw them lift the Pro12 trophy in 2017, while he has enjoyed domestic success in New Zealand and helped Fiji lift the Sevens World Cup in 2005. Here we find out more about Pivac, past and present…

How would you describe your coaching philosophy?

It’s very inclusive. For me it’s making sure the coaches I surround myself with have strengths that complement my weaknesses. We’ve all got strengths and weaknesses and it’s making sure that between the group we’ve covered that.

Having like-minded people who like to have players express themselves is really important. I’m not one for a team full of robots, I like players and coaches to express themselves as individuals. The coaches are all ex-players and know how they like to play the game. I most respected the coaches I played under who wanted to use the ball.

Wayne Pivac

Back-room team: Wayne Pivac talks to Sam Warburton (Getty Images)

How did you go about picking your back-room team?

Again, it’s about like-minded people. You do a lot of research, pick up the phone and talk to people, use your networks. It’s making sure a person is very good at their trade, with their technical and tactical knowledge, and is also the type of person and personality you want to bring into the environment.

That’s an important part of process, making sure everyone within the coaching group is compatible, as we have a short amount of time to put things together so need to be on the same page when discussing players.

Stephen (Jones) was a no-brainer for me. Then we looked at having two people in the defensive team. All teams have an attack coach and a skills coach, who works with the attack coach. We have Stephen and Neil Jenkins. When you have 40 players in camp and defensively you have one coach to look at the tactical and technical side… That was the justification for having an assistant to Byron (Hayward).

I had a good chat with Sam (Warburton) about his time with Wales and his experiences, and it was clear we should have another conversation because he was still eager to be involved. That came about pretty quickly. He has a lot to contribute and give back to the game. This is an opportunity for him to grow as a coach in our environment.

What do you enjoy about coaching in Wales?

There are a lot of similarities to New Zealand. The fact it’s the No 1 sport, it means a lot to people and you can affect the national psyche with your performance. That’s an extra responsibility. It’s something I grew up with in New Zealand, where the All Blacks can certainly change the mood of the nation, and that’s very similar in Wales. People are passionate about the game.

Having lived in Wales for five-and-a-half years now and come from the club system here, I see myself as a club coach coming through.

What are you most looking forward to as Wales head coach?  

Trying to emulate some of what the past group has done and win trophies. You always want to help players fulfil their dreams, further develop players and give good team performances when you take the field.

Certainly going to a World Cup and performing on the biggest stage… Every rugby player and every coach wants to challenge themselves against the best.

Is there extra pressure given what Warren Gatland achieved?

It adds to the challenge. All the coaches are past players and we’re very competitive people, so this group wants to stamp their own mark on the team.

This is my first Six Nations and a big challenge is public expectation as Wales won the tournament last season. No side has won back-to-back Grand Slams (in the six-team championship), which shows how difficult it is, and this year we play England and Ireland away from home, so it’s a big challenge. The management team has been together for a few months and we’re excited by that challenge.

Obviously you have Welsh rugby knowledge from your time at Scarlets, but do you think the style of play you’re known for enhanced your case for the job?

I think it’s a combination of the two. If you look at the Welsh rugby public, there’s a very attacking mindset. That’s from the Seventies with Phil Bennett and Co.

Growing up I saw a lot of that watching from afar. We think we can evolve the attack of the team and do more with the ball, but we also need to keep working hard on skill-sets and fitness levels.

What can we expect from Wales now? Big changes or more subtle ones?

We’ve got enforced change early on with injuries, but the squad has the nucleus of the World Cup squad and that experience, as well as new blood coming in with an eye on 2023.

When you look at it, things are not broken, so it’s how we add value. Everything we look to do, that is the question we ask: will it add value?

We are looking to evolve but everything takes time. It took Scarlets three seasons to peak really. The four regional teams all have slightly different ways of playing, so it does take a bit of time. We’ve been going round all the regions, talking to the respective coaches about the way we’d like to play and the skill-sets required to do that. There’s good work being done at the clubs; they’re not seeing the results they want but that’s not through a lack of effort and training.

Jonathan Humphreys has been working with scrum and forwards coaches, Byron with defence and Stephen attack. They’re all out and about having discussions, and some clubs have asked them to come in and take a few sessions.

How do you avoid any perceived Scarlets bias?

That’s really easy from my point of view. When you pick up a new role, you give 110% to that role. The responsibility that comes with that is to pick a team to get results for your country. You can’t do anything that would jeopardise that. It’s my job to pick a team to get the job done on the day and I’ll do that.

How does coaching Wales compare to coaching Fiji?

It’s one extreme to the other. First and foremost, resource-wise everybody – the management team and the players – gets paid on time. Looking at the training facilities, funding and so on, it’s poles apart. We tried to get more funding between 2004 and 2007. We beat Italy in 2005 and looked at what they were getting having been brought into the Six Nations and it (Fiji’s funding) didn’t seem quite right.

Probably challenging and frustrating are the two words I’d use to describe coaching Fiji. To see where some rugby players come from and where they get to on the world stage is fantastic, it’s great to be part of. And to win the Sevens World Cup in 2005 is something I’ll never forget. If you bump into a Fijian, they remember that – they love their sevens.

It’s a privilege to get up in the morning and coach Fiji or coach Wales, or do any professional role. Getting paid to work in sport, you pinch yourself sometimes.

How do you switch off from rugby?

I’m a social golfer. I don’t get to play as much as I’d like but it’s a great way to spend an afternoon or a morning and relax. I used to live in West Wales – I’m in St Hilary near Cowbridge now – so I like going to beach. I also watch a few box-sets – Luther, The Affair. Anything with a detective element I like.

Tell us about your playing background…

My dad took me to training at Takapuna when I was five years old and I remember him telling the coach I’d be a prop because that was the position he played. I was a year young as I was a big boy for my age but I didn’t enjoy it in the front row, even as a kid!

My dad was one of ten kids, eight boys, and they’d knock around in the backyard together. Some of his brothers played league and he played rugby. I grew up as a young fan watching dad play on a Saturday. My brother played, too, and when we were old enough we played in the same rugby teams.

Dad was a passionate rugby man. Seeing him coach had a big influence on me getting into coaching after a serious knee injury stopped me playing at 27.

I was always a forward and had the ability to play across the back row. I played through the levels to the senior side for Takapuna, schools rugby, and for North Harbour. Back in those days you didn’t have substitutions and the No 8 in front of me was pretty good – Wayne Shelford, All Blacks captain!

I played a lot of sevens and I definitely liked to be the link from tight forwards to backs and to get my hands on the ball as much as I could. Most teams I played in would rather play with the ball, but it’s horses for courses and you need to play more than one way.

If you could be any of the players you’ve coached, who would it be?

There are so many fantastic players. One of the players I first coached was Michael Jones, in his last year in 1999.

I was one of youngest coaches back then to coach at that level and he’d been around for a while. He was world class – he could run like a back but was as tough as anything and would make some of the biggest hits on the rugby field. He was the complete, all-round No 7 and a great guy off the field too.

Who were your childhood heroes?

There were a few All Blacks back in the day. Grant Batty, a 5ft 5in winger who scored tries for fun. Sid Going. They were great players and really stood out for me.

The first Test I went to was the All Blacks v England at Eden Park in 1973 – a present for my tenth birthday – and the All Blacks lost! I used to get up early in the morning to watch northern tours. I remember being in a sleeping bag and getting up at 2.30am, watching the game and having a toasted sandwich.

Has your work as a policeman helped your coaching?

I left school and went straight down to police college in Wellington. As a cadet, you go in at 18 for a year, so at 19 I was on the streets of North Shore. As a young person you had to be able to communicate with people from different walks of life. We were taught how to read body language and listen to information from people who didn’t want to give it to you. Those communication skills and being able to talk to people helps when managing a team and leading an organisation. So a lot of the work I did in the police for 15 years is aligned with coaching.

This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Rugby World magazine.

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