Letting go of a player is a bold call.
As easy as it is to blame coaches for not constantly “taking it out on form”, there is the human element to selection which is often understated.
Sure, you could pick a different XV each week and emphasize that you pick the players with the best form, but you’ll have to balance that with the effects it has on the players and their confidence.
Telling an established player he’s not on the squad of the day – or even the squad at large – is hard work.
This is why coaches are paid dearly.
To his credit, Wayne Pivac has never been afraid to make these bold decisions.
In fact, those who know of Pivac’s success with the Scarlets have probably wondered how some of these traits will move into the international game.
John Barclay, one of his former Scarlets managers, has previously explained how Pivac embarked on long-term thinking at the Scarlets with bold appeals, even if it meant taking criticism from the start.
“At Scarlets he was responsible, along with the senior squad, for the transformation of the team and the way things were done,” Barclay told The Times earlier this year.
He joined a club that was set in its ways and locked in the mindset that he had a divine right to succeed.
âWayne made tough decisions, taking a long-term approach to success. one of the most famous clubs in Wales. In the space of three years, he took them from mid-table to Guinness Pro12 champions in 2017 and finalists the following year.
âWhen it comes to training, Wayne gave a lot of the tasks to Stephen Jones and Byron Hayward. Again, he looked at the big picture, focusing his efforts on managing the environment, selecting the teams and team recruiting. “
Pivac basically followed the same structure. He looked to the future, as evidenced by the way he handled the fall campaign and the depth he gained from blooding new hats. He also empowered the players, as Barclay mentioned.
Speaking ahead of Saturday’s game, Rhys Patchell, Wales and Scarlets opener, explained how Pivac creates a winning environment.
“Wayne is very good at creating an environment where boys feel like they are leading him,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“Then when you get momentum, it feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a real strength that Wayne has.”
We are now starting to see the fruits of Pivac’s labor.
Perhaps the only part of the Barclay blackout that we haven’t really seen is âthe removal of deadwoodâ. This is hardly surprising, given the differences between club rugby and international rugby.
Unlike club rugby, you can’t get rid of the players and replace them with new, big-name recruits who match your philosophy.
But while “getting rid of deadwood” is not as final a decision as it is at club level, Pivac has always recognized the need to keep players on their toes. In that sense, he may have taken a slightly different path than his predecessor Warren Gatland.
At this level you have to work with what you have. Gatland knew this all too well, tailoring his philosophy to the players at his disposal.
He also kept trusting those he knew, rarely giving up on players unless he felt they had achieved their goal.
Already however, Pivac has seen fit to exclude two relatively established names from its fall squad in Elliot Dee and Adam Beard – saying they need time with their clubs to work on their game.
This is a nice course of action from a trainer and, given how often this is said, you can get a little insensitive to it. Too often this is an unnecessary comment as to why someone has been abandoned.
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Still, Pivac really meant it and this is the boost both players needed.
Beard has been a constant in the Welsh pack, helping to solidify the roster, while Dee has recovered as Ken Owens’ assistant – arguably having his best game in a Welsh shirt on the bench against England Saturday.
Dee, in particular, admitted that being dropped was just what he needed to improve his game after receiving the dreaded phone call from Pivac before the fall.
“It was one of those situations where you were like ‘do I really want to answer this?’ But I did talk to Wayne about it and we agreed I hadn’t been in top form, âDee said.
“Right away when I hung up I realized I had to pull up my socks a bit and work on things if that was where I wanted to come back.”
PIvac saw the improvements they wanted in them and now they’ve been rewarded.
“He’s a player who’s been part of a very successful team over the past 18 months, especially under Warren,” Pivac said of Beard’s recall at the time.
âThere are some things he can do that no one else can do given his size alone. We really wanted him to improve his entire game and go and work on that.
“He has shown some improvements, but we think there is more to come.”
In turn, Seb Davies, who was a regular on Pivac’s teams after falling down the pecking order with Gatland, and Sam Parry now have work to do to get back into the race. This competition for places is only a good thing.
Even within the squad, Pivac has shaken things up in terms of expectations to start.
Under Gatland, George North had been a permanent fixture in the starting XV – even when things weren’t going well.
Even though the weight of the world was apparently on his shoulders, Gatland stood with North through the tough times.
Sometimes it worked, other times it didn’t.
Pivac took a whole new approach to North, dropping him to the side at one point. He even said at a press conference that it was an easy call.
The result? North has taken on the challenge posed by his coach and is playing some of his best rugby and is thriving in a new position.
Giving up players is a high stakes call. Sticking to the status quo is often the easiest thing to do, but so far Pivac has largely succeeded with what it wanted to do.
His last big call was to drop Rhys Webb in front of the Six Nations.
Pivac was clear with what he wanted to see from the scrum half, calling on Webb to improve his speed and passing accuracy.
âRhys and I had a good discussion about the accuracy of his passing game, which he needs to work on and come up with those numbers,â Pivac said ahead of the tournament.
“We just questioned his pace at the top of the game. The other three [Gareth Davies, Kieran Hardy and Tomos Williams] all of them bring an electric rhythm, we know that.
âThat’s something that’s in question right now with Rhys.
“But it’s not out of place to play for Wales in the future, he just won’t be selected for this tournament at this point.”
The door, at this point, was not closed and Webb responded with a series of blinding performances and man-of-the-match awards. He’s certainly a man who has something to prove.
The fact that after not calling Webb when Tomos Williams got injured, Pivac said “I think Rhys talked about not wanting to be number three and Lloyd [Williams] is a perfect number three for us “isn’t exactly promising, but neither is Webb’s career in Test.
What Pivac has shown so far is that if he lets you down to work on something, he’s more than willing to reward you when you put in that hard work.
What about the man who was called before Webb? Well, Kieran Hardy didn’t really hurt too much.