Wayne Pivac has spoken to the media, via a webinar session, to discuss all matters Wales. From playing tests behind closed doors, to ‘The 38’, right down to the contracts in hand. He discussed the global season and his role as a teacher.
Robert Rees brings you the full interview from the webinar.
How has lockdown been for you?
“It started off as a bit of a novelty, certainly around the house. I’m married with two, twin 14-year-old stepdaughters, so I’ve been a bit of a teacher as well as my rugby stuff. There’s been an adjustment period there and I’ve a newfound respect for teachers. There’s a lot of things that are new and challenging.
“Staying home is getting into routines, which has gone reasonably smoothly in our home. For me, the novelty wore off after about week four so it’s just setting goals every day.
“We’re in the hands of the government in terms of our daily lives, let alone worrying about sport. First and foremost it’s about getting back to normality, but whether it gets back 100% I’m not too sure.”
“They do seem unlikely as each week goes by, but what we have to do as a management team and players, until they are called off, is prepare as if they’re going ahead. It’s been a challenge, but an enjoyable one. We’re preparing as if they’re going ahead in June, working from home until we’re allowed to come in.”
Players need to get back into pre-season
“Globally, everyone’s going to be in the same boat so we’re not losing ground in that respect, but we are falling behind in the normal training we’d be doing now, we’d be playing the season. We’ve got to get our strength and conditioning to a certain level. What we did, once we got wind that we were going into lockdown, is we’ve broken our Vale gym down.
“The 38 [senior Welsh players] have all got an Olympic [weightlifting] bar each and some plates to go with that so they can do certain exercise at home. Clearly, they can’t do everything they’d normally do in the gym, so they’ve been given programmes by Paul Stridgeon and our strength and conditioning group to get them through.
“A lot of it is bodyweight exercises, thinking outside the box. The trainers have enjoyed that and programmes are adjusted on a weekly/bi-weekly cycle. We decided to go into an off-season phase, so we had a break, and when speaking to players the feedback we had was that they’re feeling great for having a break. Because some had a Wales camp, then the World Cup, coming back after just a few weeks off into club rugby before international rugby again. Their bodies were pretty beaten up. So, a lot of them are feeling really good mentally and physically.
“We’re coming into a pre-season phase as we speak, but that will need to be ramped up when we can resume training in order to play meaningful games of rugby so we don’t risk players to injury.”
Covid-19 cases in Wales camp….
“I’ve spoken to all the players from the Six Nations camp individually since the lockdown, so I know who’s well and who has picked up illness. No one has been required to go to hospital, just symptoms like coughs and temperature. They’ve dealt with that at home and come out the other side of it.”
Test match pile-up
“What we’re doing is preparing as if July is going ahead with a serious view that they may not. It’s a scenario that they could be postponed and it could be that we go to New Zealand later on in the season.
“If this is before the autumn series, if that goes ahead, then we’ll have to play those and come back to play another series. There’s still the Scotland fixture which needs to be completed, and that’s an important fixture for a number of reasons.
“You could end up with eight tests in a ten-week period. Every nation would be in the same boat, so we wouldn’t have more games than anybody else and preparation would be the same for everyone, but from speaking to players they just want to get back to some sort of normality.
“As soon as they can train then they want to go and play, they’ll relish that opportunity.”
Playing at the Dragons’ Heart hospital (Principality Stadium)
“It will be [emotional]. There are lots of people involved in the discussions of what we have to do before rugby can resume, but it’ll be nice when we do get back there [Principality Stadium], when that is we don’t know and we have to be prepared for whatever happens.
“It’ll be a special day when we do get back.”
Medical testing players?
“What Prav [Mathema, WRU Chief Medical Manager]’s doing with the medical experts is putting together those scenarios [training/playing] well before we play a game. There are certain things we’ll have to do, what those are we don’t 100% know, but that’s what Prav and his team are working on.
“It’s not as simple as just going back and training, I’d imagine there would be testing involved. You’re asking people to be two metres apart, then play a game of rugby. Those two sentences don’t go together.”
Player welfare top of Wayne Pivac’s list
“We’re having discussions on the length of time we’re away from training. When we do get back together we’ll have to be careful on how much we work these players so we don’t bring on injury. What we want to do is come back and build up and ramp up the volume of what we do. I’d imagine we’ll do a five-six week programme to get there.”
Regional and European rugby needs to go after test rugby
“There are a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ on this and if there was time then the broadcasters involved can provide rugby when we’re allowed to. What is the rugby they want to see and we can provide. Whether that’s Pro14 play-off games or Welsh derbies, there are a lot of scenarios we’re looking at, but we’re looking to complete them if we can and no doubt Europe will want to do the same.
“It’ll all come down to how much time we have to play these matches. It’s not an easy landscape to work with.”
One change Wayne Pivac would like to see at the end of all this…
“We’ve got a great opportunity to look at the global season, which has been discussed at stages and both hemispheres have their views. I think what we have now is an opportunity to sit down, because of the time we have to do that.
“By that I mean, in the past we’ve had rugby in the north, but the southern hemisphere would be off and vice versa. It’s been a tricky time to get people together, but now we do have that chance and the game may look a bit different, especially in the short-term, but it’s a great opportunity for a global season to be put under some scrutiny.”
“It’s one where timings are different in various countries. New Zealand looked at countries here and had the benefit of hindsight, whereas now we can look at countries coming out of lockdown before us and see how that works.
“In terms of the July tours, I can’t see how they’ll be treated any differently. I can’t see borders being opened up, especially in New Zealand. I think we’ll keep the calendar the same where we can.”
Parkes and Tompkins’ futures
“I can’t talk about individual contracts, but as there is coming to an end of any season there’s a lot of discussion of players coming and going. There are some players coming and there are some going.
“When clubs have got contracts signed and the ink has dried I’m sure they’ll announce them. There has been some activity though.
“The 60-cap rule is something we’re driving hard and I’ve spoken to the Six Nations squad around our view and what we’re doing across the weeks, playing in Wales, the advantages and disadvantages. There are a number of players looking to come to Wales.”
The Dragons’ Heart hospital…
“It’s a unique sight. I’ve been down there and the Vale, which is now a hospital site. It’s mind-blowing really that a number of weeks ago we were training there and now they are set up as hospital. It shows the amazing work that so man people have done. It puts sport into perspective that our stadium being a hospital, it rams home the enormity of what we’re dealing with.”
Favourite matches to watch back…
“Certainly in my tenure I like looking back at the Italian game because we won 42-0, but to be honest I haven’t had much time to watch too many of these things that are being shown. Being a school teacher now, there’s a lot of prep going on in the evening’s ready for next day’s class, but I’ve been watching Netflix to take my mind off things.
“Watching the games from when I grew up to nowadays it rams home how fit these guys are and home different the game is now.
“I still look back at the All Blacks vs. Barbarians where the Baa-Baas gave them a beating, Gareth Edwards scoring. Derek Quinnell tells me he should take the plaudits for that try as if he hadn’t had passed he wouldn’t have scored.
“Also, the 13-12 victory in Cardiff when Andy Haden swan dived over the line to give Brian McKechnie a shot at goal to win it.”
Playing behind closed doors…
“There’s two things that come into it. There’s the home advantage, and the win/loss record during games at home where you have an advantage with familiar surroundings. With the roof closed we have something most nations don’t have.
“If you factor in 75,000 people and it adds a few points. Take those away and it becomes a neutral venue. It’ll be different hearing the anthem with 50 people as opposed to 75,000. If in fact we play in the stadium it’ll be a different environment.
“The other factor is if the hospital is still there we could be at a different venue.”
Rugby lifting the national mood
“I think it’ll be massive to lift spirits. You only have to hear about mental health in the briefings. Sport plays a massive part in our lives, whether that be at home on TV, live at the game or a local club game, being able to follow a team allows people to get away from their lives and we’re realising how special sport is.
“We play a massive part in the community and the good thing about the test match being played at the stadium it changes Cardiff and the local economy.”
Jonah Holmes and ‘The 38’
“We know the 38 players and if those 38 remain in the country then there isn’t any room on the list, but there will be if someone leaves. In terms of Jonah, I’ve had several conversations with and about him, the last one two days ago.
“He’s exploring his options. One is he’s got one year left on his Tigers and remain there and check options post that, and the other is to speak to Tigers about getting out of that contract, what that would look like and see about bringing him to Wales.
“He’s exploring all of those and I’ve been speaking to both Welsh regions and to Jonah about the matter. I’d like to see him back in Wales, this season or next as it would help Wales.
“It’s not too difficult to create the 38. Warren [Gatland] had a 38, and you look at the players who went to the World Cup, you look at their form and the players that suit our way we want to play.”
Relief Wales vs. Scotland was postponed?
“I think Martyn Phillips, Gareth Davies and the board made the right decision. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it was clearly the right decision. The game wasn’t called off at a governmental level and so Welsh rugby chiefs has to come up with the decision they did.
“Clearly they made the right choice and should be applauded for such. We’re professionals and trained up until the Friday that we were told the game was off, but we’re pleased that game didn’t go ahead.”
WRU finances rely on ticket sales; knock-on effect
“I think it’s really important to play rugby for reasons I outlined earlier. What sport, and rugby does for people in Wales is tremendous. Behind closed doors you still have TV, we have contracts we need to see through and from our point of view, without the ticket sales and hospitality that goes with it is a starting point.
“Obviously they hold financial implications, hit we’ll take it as it comes and it’ll be about how we can save money going forward.”
Helping mental health of WRU staff…
“The WRU have a HR department that have put out a lot of content to WRU staff, from anxiety to sleepless night and across the spectrum of mental health. We employed, at the start of my tenure, a sports psychologist.
“He is working, on a daily basis, with our staff. Calls, video hook-ups etc. We’re doing anything we can to get through this period and it revolves around a routine and talking to someone.
“It’s crucial to have a lot of information and be able to reach people.”
“Main photo credit”