Wayne Pivac relishing challenge of toppling France to clinch Grand Slam

Andrew Baldock, PA Rugby Union Correspondent
·4-min read

Wayne Pivac accepts that Wales will face “a massive challenge” when they go for the Guinness Six Nations title and Grand Slam against France in Paris next Saturday.

The unbeaten tournament leaders reeled off a third successive bonus-point victory to increase pressure on their rivals for silverware by crushing Italy 48-7 in Rome.

And Pivac’s team now head to the French capital knowing that a sixth Six Nations crown and fifth Grand Slam will be secured if they topple Les Bleus.

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“We need to improve, and we are looking to improve each week,” Wales head coach Pivac said.

“They (France) are going to be a different proposition. We will review our performance, preview them and we know we are in for a massive game.

“The two previous games (against France in the last 12 months), we have been on the receiving end of the result and we are in for a massive challenge.

“If you asked this side coming out of the autumn whether they would take four (wins) from four travelling to Paris for a potential Grand Slam, I think you know the answer.”

Italy’s 31st Six Nations defeat in a row saw them predictably offer little resistance at Stadio Olimpico as Wales tore them apart by scoring seven tries.

Hooker Ken Owens led the way with a try double, while wing Josh Adams and number eight Taulupe Faletau also touched down during a dominant first-half display that saw Wales secure a bonus-point after just 30 minutes.

Centre George North added his 43rd Wales try early in the second period, equalling Shane Williams’ Wales record of 22 Six Nations touchdowns, and there were also scores for fly-half substitute Callum Sheedy and wing Louis Rees-Zammit.

Sheedy kicked two conversions, with Dan Biggar landing three conversions and also kicking a penalty, while wing Monty Ioane scored a try for Italy that fly-half Paolo Garbisi converted.

The result equalled Wales’ biggest victory over the Azzurri in Rome, and Pivac added: “To have the bonus point by half-time gave us the luxury of being able to rest a few (players).

Italy v Wales – Guinness Six Nations – Stadio Olimpico
George North scores his 22nd Six Nations try for Wales (Marco Iacobucci/PA)

“We had hoped to get into that position and we achieved that. We came for five points and we got five, so we are certainly happy with that.

“We scored some good tries, but we were pretty disappointed that we actually left a few out there as well. We talked about being ruthless and clinical.

“Going to Paris will be a different challenge for us, but it is one game at a time and you play what is in front of you.”

Wales won just three of their 10 Tests under Pivac last year – his first at the helm after succeeding Warren Gatland – but one more victory would give them a second Grand Slam in three seasons.

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Pivac said: “We know the pain we went through in the autumn and they were certainly not the results (in the Autumn Nations Cup) we were after.

“But we are that much better for the autumn, we’ve got a lot more depth and we are going to have to keep building on that depth.

“Because the big prize at the end of the day is working towards the Rugby World Cup in 2023 and this championship was always going to be a line in the sand for us.

“We are very pleased to be four from four, obviously, with an opportunity that we can finally talk about and that’s to try and go all the way and win five from five – the Grand Slam.”

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones will become the first player to win four Six Nations Grand Slams if his team beat France.

“I don’t know if it gets easier or more difficult the more opportunities you get with games like this,” Jones said.

Alun Wyn Jones
Alun Wyn Jones will be going after another personal record against France (Marco Iacobucci/PA)

“The biggest thing for me is the realisation we have got a lot of players in this squad that have been in these weeks before.

“You don’t want to be over the top with the messaging and speak too much because it builds the fatigue levels.

“Ultimately, we are going to rely on, not past experience, but the fact it is another opportunity and challenge to play for Wales in a special week.”

Try-scorer North, meanwhile, added: “I think certainly after the autumn series there wasn’t much hype about us, which is always good because we like to be underdogs.

“I think the hard work the boys put in over the autumn series and the early part of the Six Nations is really coming true now.

“We know what they (France) are about. They are a team in great form at the moment – we know how potent France are.”