Wayne Pivac: Wales lucky to have so much Grand Slam experience for title decider

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

Unbeaten Wales will tap in to a wealth of Grand Slam experience when they go for Guinness Six Nations title glory on Saturday.

A sixth Six Nations crown and fifth Grand Slam will be secured if they beat solitary title rivals France in Paris.

And 14 of their starting line-up at Stade de France – wing Louis Rees-Zammit is the exception – tasted Grand Slam success under head coach Wayne Pivac’s predecessor Warren Gatland.

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“We are very lucky that in our changing room we are going to have 14 of the starting 15 having won a Grand Slam before,” Pivac said.

“There are plenty on the replacements’ bench and in the management that have also done it before.

“There is a lot of experience to call on in these situations, which is a good place to be.

“When you’ve got 14 of your starting side that have won a Grand Slam before, you want that experience and those conversations to come out. It gives confidence across the whole group.

“It is keeping the feet on the ground and realising it is another game of rugby. Yes, there is a big prize on the line, but in the other four games we’ve had to get results to be in this position.

“Seeing the boys during the jog-through this morning, they had a bounce in their step. We are in a pretty good space.”

Pivac has made one change to a starting XV that contains 987 caps, with lock Adam Beard returning instead of Cory Hill following a 48-7 victory over Italy in Rome last Saturday.

Four switches on the bench, meanwhile, see roles for Hill, prop Nicky Smith, flanker James Botham and scrum-half Tomos Williams, who has recovered from a hamstring injury, among his eight substitutes.

England v Wales – Guinness Six Nations – Twickenham Stadium
Wales scrum-half Tomos Williams (David Davies/PA)

Williams started Wales’ Six Nations opener against Ireland last month, but he was hurt during that game and has not played since.

Beard, who featured in Wales’ opening three games, is back as captain Alun Wyn Jones’ second-row partner, and Gareth Davies retains the number nine shirt.

Jones equals New Zealander Richie McCaw’s total of caps – 148 – for one country, although Jones already holds the world Test match appearance record, when his nine British and Irish Lions Tests are added.

And if Wales triumph, it would be Jones’ fourth Grand Slam as a player, which is a feat never previously achieved in 21 years of Six Nations action.

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A losing bonus point would still be enough to secure Wales the title if France do not collect a five-point maximum on Saturday.

And Pivac added: “It is something we are aware of, the different scenarios. But you prepare a team for a game of rugby, and it is an 80-minute effort.

“It’s about the performance, and if everyone delivers on their roles, we give ourselves a good opportunity to win the game.”

Pivac is not the only member of his family involved in a major sporting occasion, with his son Bradley part of the on-shore events team involved in the America’s Cup that saw Team New Zealand retain the trophy off the Auckland coast.

Pivac said: “Bradley has been working on the America’s Cup, so they are pretty excited down there, having just won that.

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“They are like any family, really. They are very supportive.

“It would be nice if they were here, but they will be watching. It’s a perfect kick-off time for them (in New Zealand), I think!”

Pivac’s first year in charge produced just three victories – against Italy twice, and Georgia – from 10 Tests, so current Six Nations success underlines an impressive turnaround.

“We are heading in the right direction,” he added.

“In one of his chats earlier in the week, Alun Wyn Jones talked about Saturday being when we need to bring all the mental energy and be right physically.

“This week is about making sure the boys have a full tank of gas on Saturday. It is about making sure we don’t over-train and over-think the game too early on.”