Alun Wyn Jones has backed the Wales head coach, Wayne Pivac, who will finish his first year in charge without a victory over a country in the top 10 of the world rankings, saying that pain in the short-term will turn into gain by the 2023 World Cup.
Wales face Italy in Llanelli on Saturday evening with fifth place in the Autumn Nations Cup at stake. The Azzurri were his first Test opponents in February and the 42-0 victory in Cardiff that afternoon is the high point of his tenure, with the only other success coming against Georgia.
“I know I am inside the tent, but you have to give credit to Wayne,” said Jones, the Wales captain and the one player in the squad who was involved before Warren Gatland became head coach at the end of 2007. “He has stuck to his guns – and continues to give players opportunities.
“In some of the games, he could have played it safe and reverted to players from before, and in the last four months we have made strides. We went into the Six Nations with a lot of ambition and that has continued. We are a team that generally gets better with time. Short-term pain for long-term gain.”
Pivac has not been deflected by remarks that one bad defeat would see him sacked. Even without the question of whether the Welsh Rugby Union, in these straitened times, could afford to pay him off, he was hired to broaden Wales’s outlook and make them more adventurous. The uniquely challenging period of Covid is an unfair time to judge him.
He has picked an attacking back division with young half-backs, quick and deceptive wings and Liam Williams has been restored to his most effective position, full-back. What Wales need is a pack delivering quick ball, although in the last month that has also come down to whether referees police the offside line at rucks; not many have.
“It is hard going through the mire, as it is in any job,” said Jones. “I have been in similar positions before and know that you do come out of it. I have been involved in the game for a while and where in my younger days I would try to deal with all situations in a similar way, I realise now that some people need a poke and others an arm around them. It is dangerous to be very reactive.”
Like Wales, Italy have only five starters from February’s Six Nations match in Cardiff. The scrum-half Stephen Varney, who was born in Pembrokeshire and plays for Gloucester, makes his first start for the Azzurri.