may the force be with you

THE RACE TO SUCCEED WARREN GATLAND APPEARS TO HAVE TURNED INTO A PROCESSION. MEET THE TAKAPUNA BEAT COP WHO LOOKS DEAD SET TO UPGRADE FROM HEAD COACH OF THE SCARLETS TO HEAD COACH OF WALES IN 2019.

Once a cop, always a cop: there is no such thing as an ex-policeman. Yes, you hand back the uniform when your time’s done, you turn over the badge, the cuffs. But the nose is yours to keep.

‘Oh, you can smell a crook’, says Wayne Pivac, emphatically. ‘I’d been off the force for years and I was still driving around Auckland thinking, ‘hey, there’s something going on over there’. Even now I can walk into a bar or a club and scan the room in five seconds and tell you where the trouble’s going to start. It’s body language. Eyes tell you a lot, facial expressions, loud voices, swearing, hand gestures, even clothes; but it’s always the body language and it always a giveaway.’

Wayne Pivac – WP7589 – started out in the New Zealand Police at the age of nineteen on the beat in Takapuna on Auckland’s North Shore; in all, fifteen years of domestics, break-ins, punch-ups, car accidents, cot deaths, rapes, muggings and robberies. It was an education. ‘The rule was, run to a fire, walk to a fight’, he says, ‘because by the time you got to the fight all you’d have to do would be sweep up. And if you got there while it was still swinging, well, if you’re sober and everyone else is half cut, the odds were with you.’

‘But there were a lot of learnings back then, not least on dealing with people. The hardest thing you ever do as a policeman is knock on someone’s door in the middle of the night to tell them a loved one’s been killed; or perhaps you’re the first on the scene at a car crash where you’re – literally – looking for pieces. It can be tough.’

‘And in those days – we’re back in the 80s here – there was no counseling. Or there was but we did it ourselves. All the police stations had bars, so you’d come off duty at eleven and you’d wash away the shift with your mates. You had a tight group, a group that worked together, helped each other and you’d be inseparable, so by five the next morning you’d feel better. That’s how we dealt with it.’

‘It was scary stuff at times when you’re, say, nineteen years old and you’re tip-toeing through a construction site in the dead of night with just a torch for company because someone’s reported a break-in. Character building. Or you’d be in an ‘I-Car’ – an Incident Car – and there’d be a domestic with some drunk waving a gun and you’d be racing to get there and loading up at the same time. I’m not sure many New Zealanders realise their police force is often armed but sometimes we’d carry .38 revolvers. Yes, there are trained firearms teams but they might take longer to get there so if you were first in when there were reports of a weapon, you had to go armed. Touch wood I never had to pull a trigger but I had the firearms training every six weeks just like everyone else.’

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WP7589 WITH MUM, JOAN, CIRCA 1981

The last eight years of his police career was spent in the CIU – Criminal Investigation Unit – where crime, and the art of solving it, became a little more cerebral and, professionally, perhaps a little more satisfying. ‘I used to enjoy pitching my brains against the bad guy and trying to get him to tell me something he didn’t want to say. We had a hit and run once – an eighteen-year-old model was run down and killed – and we had a prime suspect but just a bundle of circumstantial evidence. It happens a lot in the police and, very often, all you can tie it up with is a confession.’

So we knew our boy had got his unemployment cheque and been drinking all day in his local watering hole. On his way home he hit the girl as she was crossing the road – just bowled her over – and kept going. We had the colour and the make of the car and part of the plate and we tracked down around 500 vehicles before we got a tip off this guy could be the driver. He’d stopped coming to work in his car. Told his boss it’d been stolen. But of course, it hadn’t and we found the car in storage; it had dents, blood and skin samples that tied it to our victim. Trouble was no one had identified him as the bloke driving it so we needed a confession.’

‘There are lots of different interview techniques dependent on different circumstances; you know, how much time have you got, what sort of crime are you dealing with and what’s the feel on the offender? For example, you can feed them bits of information and try to get answers that contradict something they’ve said earlier. Or you can try to gain their confidence. We sat down and talked for five hours and, I think, ultimately, I just got him to trust me. We spoke about closure for the girl’s family and about how much better he’d feel if he got it off his chest; just trying to wear him down over time. You know when someone has something they want to tell you.’

‘Anyway, he said he was having nightmares; couldn’t sleep and had been reliving the accident. He just wanted to let go of it. He also wanted to make contact with the girl’s family but the parents didn’t want to do that face-to-face. So I helped him write a letter to them and then took down a statement. It was a tough but satisfying few hours. He was jailed and disqualified from driving indefinitely.’

You listen to all this from a rugby perspective and it’s not just fascinating but revealing; no question, you understand why telling a player he’s dropped isn’t exactly a moment to be clutching the pearls or reaching for the smelling salts. Indeed, you can draw the Venn Diagram of ‘Pivac the Policeman’ and ‘Pivac the Coach’ and work out very easily where the two overlap.

‘No, there’s no way I’d be the coach I am now if I hadn’t been on the force. And I don’t think it’s any coincidence that there’s a lot of good policemen who’ve gone on to forge good coaching careers; people like Steve Hansen and Mike Cron for instance. I think problem solving, conflict resolution, just reading and dealing with different people, I think we do that on a daily basis in coaching and that’s the sort of thing I thrive on.’

At one point back in New Zealand – intriguingly – Wayne Pivac’s two circles actually melded into one and, for four years, he coached the New Zealand Police rugby team; his assistant coach being, you’ve guessed it, Steve Hansen and the third selector, Mike Cron.

‘Steve was a centre, he was from Christchurch and he’d just finished playing. We were both street cops. Back then the NZ Police played in a week long, four-way tournament with the Army, the Navy and the Air Force; game one Monday, game two Tuesday, day off Wednesday, game three Thursday; Wednesday was the team court session with ‘Shag’ (Steve Hansen) as the judge. It was a great tournament; camaraderie, a beer and a meat pie and it got policemen from all over the country together. Everyone looked forward to it and they were great days. ‘Shag’ was one heck of a judge by the way. Disciplined. Always disciplined. And not much has changed.’

***

Pivac? You won’t find too many of those in the Auckland phone directory. ‘It’s a Croatian name. My grandparents were from a place called Podgora, which is just back from the coast and up in the hills somewhere between Split and Dubrovnik. I’ve not been there. I really ought to go some day. I remember Dad – this is George Pivac – telling us a story about how my grandparents had actually eloped but whatever it was, they jumped on a boat and ended up on a farm in Northland gum-digging and clearing the old swamp lands, which was bloody hard, manual work. Anyway in the end they got given a slice of the countryside for all their efforts and they had ten kids up there, eight boys and two girls.’

‘My mother’s family – this is Joan Pivac – they were from Scotland, somewhere near Glasgow I think, and she was a primary schoolteacher in Auckland. So one day she came out of college and got off the bus in Kaitaia – Kaitaia being just about the last pile of bricks you come to on the North Island before you hit Papua New Guinea – the bus station being where the local lads, Dad included, used to hang out to, how shall we say, meet any new arrivals. So George married Joan and my brother and sister were born in Kaitaia. I arrived after they’d all moved down to Takapuna on Auckland’s North Shore.’

Dad was the huge rugby influence, a prop and later, like his son a few years after him, a coach at Takapuna. ‘So I left school and played for Takapuna in the back row and for Auckland Colts. That team had a prop converting to hooker, name of Sean Fitzpatrick, who turned out okay and a guy called Frano Botica at fly-half.’

‘But because I was living on the North Shore, I played for North Harbour; trouble was they had another Wayne at eight called Buck Shelford – he was the All Black captain at the time – so competition was a bit stiff. But I had a good four seasons there. Peter Thorborn MNZM was the coach – Peter, lovely man, went on to work with Bristol and the USA – and he was very, very good; inspirational, innovative, an outstanding man-manager. I learned a lot from him.’

So back at Takapuna – opportunities at NH being limited and hampered by a knee injury – the coaching seed was planted. ‘I’d always captained sides I’d been in and other people were nagging me to give it a go so I gave it a go; started with the U21s and then the First Fifteen which was interesting because, back then, ABs played club rugby, so we had Eric Rush, Glen Osborne, Kevin Borovich, Blair Larsen and Graham Dowd plus a bundle of representative players. I was, what, twenty-seven or so?’

‘And that was a steep learning curve because you were coaching your mates, or more importantly selecting them, and to start with I was picking people basically on reputations and friendships. Trouble was we weren’t quite getting it done. We lost a final in my first year and a semi in my second so after that I thought, hang on a minute, time to draw a line here. If we’re going to win things I need to get a bit more ruthless, so I got a bit more ruthless and that year we won the championship. That sort of kick-started the coaching career.’

He then got handed the reins of the Second XV at North Harbour who went through his first season unbeaten, a trick he repeated with Second Division Northland when he got them promoted to Division One: ‘that team broke all the New Zealand records for tries and points scored.’ A pattern was beginning to develop here so perhaps it wasn’t a huge surprise when the Big City came calling.

‘I got a phone call from the CEO of Auckland – this would’ve been the end of 1997 season – who said, look, Graham Henry wants a chat, off the record sort of thing, so I went down to Graham Henry’s place and he asked me if I’d be his assistant coach; said he liked what he was hearing about Northland, what we were doing and how we were playing, and he wanted to bring in a young coach with a view – perhaps – to one day taking over.’

‘Well, for me that was pretty exciting so the next season I was away down to Auckland, only I got there and Graham Henry says, ‘good to see you, bad news, I’m off to Wales’ and off he went. Never got to work with him for even one day. Anyway they advertised the vacancy and gave me the job’, not the first time in his coaching career where he’d audition as the Apprentice and suddenly find himself cast as the Sorcerer. He smiles wryly. ‘The thing with coaching is, it’s all a matter of timing.’

So Grant Fox, no less, came in as Pivac’s assistant and in five years with Auckland they won three NPC titles – 1999, 2002 and 2003 – doubling up in the final year with a Ranfurly Shield, which left Wayne Pivac as the ‘Steinlager New Zealand Rugby Coach of the Year, 2003.’ The trophy’s at home in Takapuna, guarded by his two boys, Matthew and Bradley, who share Dad’s apartment now he’s elsewhere.

‘That Auckland team was special and the Double was special and to win the Ranfurly Shield by beating Canterbury in Christchurch – it was 31-40 at the Jade Stadium, a win which finally loosened Canterbury’s three year grip on the so-called Log ‘o Wood – was just massive. The Shield is steeped in so much history; I can remember my Dad would take us to Ranfurly Shield games when we were kids and you’d get 35,000 on a Wednesday for an Auckland/North Auckland game with Sid Going at Eden Park, so to win that was so special.’

‘And the funny thing was that in 2001 I’d got a phone call from Graham Henry asking if I’d, if you like, return the favour because he’d done the Lions, left Wales and had no job. And there were a few Auckland Board Members telling me, ‘don’t do it, you know he walked out on his contract here’ but I thought, no, hang on, we can use his experience. So he came back and did defence – I don’t think he’d ever coached it before, not as a speciality – and that worked well and we had a good bond and it got him back on the ladder in New Zealand and back on the road to the All Blacks job.’

‘But I can still remember those guys at Auckland saying, ‘look, if it goes wrong it’ll be your fault and if you win things, Henry’ll take the credit’. Yet just before the final whistle in 2003 when we were all running from the coaches’ box to get the lift down to be with the players on the pitch, Graham said to Foxy and me, ‘no, you two get down there and enjoy it; I’ve won it before, you go.’ So we went and it was truly special.’  

***

There was a new contract available in Auckland post 2003 but after five years ticking all the boxes, international rugby beckoned. ‘Fiji were looking for a coach post the 2003 RWC and the opportunity came up and I jumped at it. It was more Director of Rugby than Coach, which was just as well because we had only four tests in my first year. But it was a big job, overseeing the selection of coaches, helping referees, putting together a development plan, an academy and a gym. It was all ground zero stuff and I really enjoyed that and learned a lot. It gave me a good appreciation of how, if you like, front office supports the back office.’

Pivac left the job seven months before Fiji made the RWC quarter finals in France in 2007 but he was very much around for the RWC Sevens in 2005 in Hong Kong. ‘It quickly became obvious to me that the National Sport of Fiji isn’t so much Fifteens as Sevens. And for two years they hadn’t won a tournament so the plan was to bring back Waisale Serevi and make him captain. I felt Fiji had run him out of town for all the wrong reasons – it’s very political over there – so we put a decent side together, went to Hong Kong and won it.’ Indeed the cup final win against New Zealand was a record margin.

‘So on the flight home we had a few. The cabin crew were raiding First Class to find bottles of Dom Perignon because we’d drunk the other two cabins dry and we staggered onto the tarmac at Nadi Airport and 10,000 people were there waiting for us. So we were escorted up to a terrace and stuck in front of a microphone and there were all these people singing ‘Go, Fiji, go’. We just didn’t realise how big it would be.’

‘It’s three hours by bus from Nadi to Suva. It took us eighteen. There were bonfires in the road at every village, so you had to stop, get out, meet the local chief and drink Kava. It was just massive, an experience you’ll never forget, the whole nation, it just meant so much to them and that’s when you realise as a coach how much rugby can mean to people. It brings it home that it’s not about individuals, you know, even if I look at the Scarlets now, I think, it’s about this whole region and you’re breathing life into it’.

Back in New Zealand in 2007, Wayne Pivac ran into choppy water. Sadly, he and wife parted company and there was neck surgery to sort out, a prolapsed disc which left him, indeed leaves him to this day, with a titanium screw holding his spine together. Not surprisingly, all that took a toll. ‘No, it was a tough time. And coaching-wise, I lost focus. But even that was a lesson. You know, the coach can have a huge influence if he’s off his game. And how you conduct yourself and approach players is vital.’

The neck surgery meant a year away from the whistle but once he was straightened out, he was back on the phone. ‘I rang Gary Whetton, who was on the Auckland board, and Andy Dalton, who was the CEO and they said how about you jump in and take on one of our club teams, see if you can turn them around. So I went to Pakuranga and we made the play-offs for two years – there was also a back-to-back win in the National Sevens – and in 2012, I was back in the chair with Auckland.’

‘But then Wales started showing an interest. Peter Manning from the Cardiff Blues came to see me – I think he was trawling round talking to a few people; Anscombe, Hammett and the like – after which Simon Easterby got in touch from the Scarlets; would I be interested in an assistant’s role? So I did a bit of research – no one who had a radio in New Zealand back in 1972 needed any introduction to Llanelli – and I said, yes, I was interested.’

‘So the next thing I know, Simon Easterby’s on a plane coming to see me for the weekend in New Zealand. He got there Saturday morning, we spent the rest of the day going over games on his laptop, we had dinner and some beers, spent Sunday on whiteboards and, that evening, he flew home. He said he’d be in touch and, forty-eight hours later, I had a contract. I just thought they were very professional.’

‘Except that of course, a couple of weeks later, I’m packing to go to Wales and Simon rings to say he’s been offered a role with Ireland – what is the Welsh for deja-vu? – and the Chairman rings to say, how about taking on Simon’s job?’ Pivac smiles, that wry smile again. ‘Coaching, you see, is all a matter of timing.’ Either that or his copper’s nose really can smell things the rest of us can’t.

***

West Wales – on one level – looked set to be a good decision. ‘What I liked about the club was the history, you know, very much like Auckland; a lot of great players had been through the place, gone on to play for Wales and the Lions and I liked the way they’d played back in those days, attacking more than defending and I loved the fact that they were all rugby mad.’

‘But there were guys who, in the early days here, no question, wanted me out. I thought there was a lot of nepotism at the club, jobs for the boys in some respects, players who lived by rules that didn’t apply to other players. It’s always the hardest thing when you come into a new group and you inherit everybody but I thought a lot of changes needed to happen. Unless, of course, you want to carry on finishing fifth or sixth. 

‘Nigel Short, the Chairman, knew that too. We were on the same page. He said look, review the place and come back to the Board and tell us what you think. So I did and it upset a few people and, yes, we had a bit of a mutiny. Look, Nigel’s an astute businessman and he handled it very well. He said, ‘okay, let’s have a meeting and everybody with a gripe turns up and says his piece.’ So we had the meeting and only four players turned up. They’re all now with other clubs.’

‘Three years on, I think we’ve got a really good group here. But that’s taken time to gel because when you arrive, you’ve got a squad of 40/45 players who don’t come off contract at the same time, so I didn’t really get the players and the management I’d hand-picked until Year Three, which, coincidentally of course, is when we won the Pro12. Although you’d have got long odds on that at the start of the season given the Scarlets lost their first three games and a bloke at a supporters’ club meeting stood up and asked Pivac when he was going to resign. The two have since forgiven each other.

‘The golden rule here is ‘Team First’. Always team first. And if you’re out of line, you won’t be in the team for much longer. But, look, it’s not a case of my way or the highway and there’s a lot of banter, especially between the players and the coaches. Mark Taylor – the Scarlets’ Team Manager – was reading out some diary notes at a squad meeting the other day, something about whether any of the players fancied doing a Level One Coaching Course, and Cubby Boi – James Davies – shouts out to me, ‘hoi, Gaffer, you’ll be signing up for that then, will you?’ And there’s no coming back from that, is there? Except that for the next 24 hours he’s looking round every corner because he knows I’m picking my moment to get him back.’

‘But those are the characters you need, the likes of Cubby and Rob Evans. Sometimes you need to quietly say, ‘hey, boys, times and places,’ but I don’t want a bunch of robots. Team dynamics means we need a diverse group; you know, we’re together for nine or ten months of the year and guys like Rob and Cubby come into their own when things are a bit testy and maybe the week hasn’t gone so well. They can just crack a joke and get the whole room to lighten up.’

And on the other side of the Scarlets’ coin are the likes of Aaron Shingler, one of a group of leaders on the team who seem to have flourished under the Pivac regime. ‘We’ve got some great guys here; Ken Owens obviously – appointed captain largely because he’s a West Walian who speaks Welsh; always the local angle – John Barclay, the likes of Scott Williams, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes and now Aaron Shingler who’s really come out of his shell in the past couple of years. He’s a guy who’s probably had a lot of knockbacks, ‘he can’t do this, he can’t do that’, but he’s a natural athlete and a fantastic player.

‘But he’s really started speaking up and doing it with real emotion; very quiet, very deliberate, and we use him a lot in team meetings to give it from the players’ perspective. Because you can hear it as much as you like from coaches but that peer pressure is really powerful stuff, putting it on your mates, getting them to roll up their sleeves and follow you in. And all that suddenly seems to come naturally with Aaron.’

‘You know, it’s surprising how emotional we feel as coaches just listening to his words. So when we head to a huddle on the field before we go back into the changing room, maybe just the forwards, Aaron will speak up and I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say something where I’ve thought, ‘that was the wrong thing to say.’ Because it’s always from the heart. And he takes that onto the field and guys follow him.’

Arguably Wayne Pivac’s trump card is his – forgive the ghastly phrase – people skills; if you like, the police stuff again. It’s rare these days to come across a boss who actually understands what being the boss entails but Pivac seems able to do it with his eyes shut. ‘I don’t micro-manage anything here: Stephen Jones owns the attack, Byron Hayward runs the defence and Ioan Cunnigham, who’s a young coach going places, does our set-pieces. That’s it. I get the best coaches I can find, I build the relationship and once we’re on the same page, I let them do their stuff. I hear stories about Head Coaches who have meetings with the kit men to discuss how many pairs of socks they’ve got and, I think to myself, that’s just unbelievable.’

‘We start at seven thirty on the dot and I generally finish around half five/six. Wednesday’s the day off but that’s usually the day I come in and work with General Manager, Jon Daniels, on contracts and other bits and pieces. The coaching office is open-plan, so we’re all in there and the players can come and go whenever they want, as long as the ‘Meeting In Progress’ sign isn’t up. We never say ‘no’ to the players. My phone’s always on if the boys want to get in touch. Police thing, I suppose. After the Wales/France game – the last Six Nations game – I finally hung up on my last call at four o’clock on Sunday morning. Just chatting with players.’

‘But then while I’d spend 95% of my time in the Coaches’ Office, I also have an office down the hallway and ‘The Walk Down the Hallway’ is the one the players don’t want to be making because it means there’s an issue with performance or you’ve messed up off the field. It’s past a fun chat. But we don’t get too much of that anymore because once you get the culture right, all the sappers in the group, the glass-half-empty-guys, they stand out like the proverbial dog’s balls. Is my bark worse than my bite? Well, put it this way, you don’t want to get bitten.’

Pivac is nothing if not thorough, the police thing again: detail, homework, background. So, in a sense, he doesn’t recruit players or coaches per se, he recruits people. And the evidence is, he gets it right. ‘The first thing we needed when I got here, given Simon had gone, was a defence coach. So we shortlisted the applicants and gave the job to Byron. The first thing I liked was that he’s a really, really loyal guy, tough mentally and an ex-boxer. There’s a lot of discipline in boxing. I also knew he’d fought Eric Rush in the ‘Fight for Life’ thing down in New Zealand so I spoke to Eric about him and that was all thumbs up.’

‘And I liked the fact that he was a ten coaching defence. To me that said he was a thinker on the game but used to thinking attack and, therefore, better able to flip that around and become a very good defensive coach. Attitude is a massive part of defence but there’s more to it than that – you can defend in different ways in different parts of the field and we do – but Byron, first and foremost, he’s got a good way with the players; they like him and they trust him and he’s one of the best around; I think our results speak volumes on that.’

‘Everyone talks about our attack but a huge amount of our tries come on the back of turnover ball. One big thing that Byron has done with the likes of James Davies, John Barclay, Will Boyde, Josh Macleod and Tadhg Bierne is really to get them to look at their decision-making. These guys were burning themselves at every ruck trying to get a turnover and now they pick their moments and that’s the work Byron’s done, the detail and the hours that go in on defence to get that turnover or maybe a penalty. It’s a massive part of our team.’

‘Stephen Jones I knew a lot more about as a player and having worked with Grant Fox who was also a great ten – what is it with WP7589 and Assistant Tens; his assistant in Fiji was Paul Feeney, now at the Stormers, who was another fly-half – I think I know how those guys think. Stephen’s got a computer on his shoulders and his development over the past couple of years has just been tremendous. And what the two of them bring – what the three of them bring including Ioan – is enthusiasm; different characters, yes, but they bounce off each other as coaches should. And off the field too, you’re talking about people who enjoy each other’s company and spend time with each other.’

Company is a good word to describe the Scarlets because, from the outside, a company is exactly what they appear to be; a band of brothers, which, yet again, takes us back to that police ethos. ‘Yes, it’s ‘Team First’ and that means, for example, that internationals that aren’t playing well enough don’t get picked. But that also means that after a win, there’s twenty minutes that’s just us in the changing room; a few beers, a team song – he says he hums those bits of ‘Sospan Fach’ that he still hasn’t quite got his head around – and a marking of milestones. First game, fiftieth game, first try: it’s a really important twenty minutes after the game. It’s important to celebrate success.’

***

A year ago Dave Rennie would’ve been the bookies’ odds-on favourite to land the Welsh coaching job but, right now, those odds would favour Wayne Pivac. The race, frankly, seems to have turned into a procession; no fault of Rennie’s, rather a measure of the Scarlets’ individual and collective successes, not just the win in the Pro12 Final in Dublin last season but the manner of their win in the Pro12 Final in Dublin. ‘I think last year’s success was about lots of little things clicking into place; Foxy, for example – Jonathan Davies – came back from Clermont where he’d been getting three touches a game. So we had to get his passing and his timing back up to speed; fitness levels, everything was out but he just got better and better as the season went on right through to the Lions’ Tour.’

‘In the pre-season I took Stephen and Ioan to New Zealand and we spent some time in the All Blacks camp courtesy of Steve Hansen; no trade secrets but a lot of watching and a few hours of their time talking rugby. Look, there’s not a lot to learn tactically. The All Blacks could send you an A4 piece of paper before the game saying, ‘hey, this is what we’re going to do, now try to stop us.’

‘Anyway one of the things we brought back was the idea of measuring decision-making, which takes some time to work out and to get into the players. So rather than saying, ‘look, that was a good carry, good gain-line, good body height’, you’re saying, ‘yes, that was a good carry, good gain-line, good body height but, overall, a poor decision because it was actually a 3 on 2 and we should’ve scored a try.’ I think we made good decisions under pressure last year and that was probably the big quantum leap for us, that and improving on our transitional play.’

‘Another massive thing – and I challenge our Strength and Conditioning boys on this – is the power of the mind and the biggest thing for this group is self-belief; so when you keep getting out of jail in games, you never get to a point when you say, ‘I don’t think we can do this’. You trust yourself and each other. We have a play by play mentality, so we don’t worry about the scoreboard or the time left on the clock, we just go with whatever play’s been called and we try to execute. And a lot of that comes from ‘live’ training and from two years building up skill sets that’ll hold up under pressure.’

Which is why, for example, Rob Evans can not only shift pianos but play them – on and off the pitch as it happens – why Tadgh Bierne left Ireland as destiny’s orphan and will return as a European Player of the Year nominee and why Rhys Patchell is now a Test ten after five years as a misfit at the Blues. ‘And if you hone the skills and you get a team that can play an energy efficient, zonal game, so you can say to the players, look, not only will you be fitter but you don’t have to run as much. It’s economical; in fact, your GPS numbers go down.’

‘I think it’s also a style of play that the guys enjoy playing and we enjoy coaching so – obviously – it makes the day at the office more enjoyable. Look, there are a few ways of going about it, aren’t there? For example, you get yourself a big pack, the best kickers in the business at 9 and 10, you play a territorial game and you build pressure. I’ll go and get a job emptying dustbins rather than do that. That’s just me. Or there’s playing a game of chess and out-smarting the defence. And that’s not just what people prefer to watch but, I think, the best way to win.’

***

Wayne Pivac lives just round the corner from Parc y Scarlets. His son Bradley was with him for the first couple of years – he was working in sales and marketing at the club; he’s currently backstage at the Commonwealth Games – but these days Dad’s home alone and fends for himself which includes, so he says, a decent roast chicken. ‘For the record, I don’t have an apron although I do have a lady called Nerys who comes in and keeps the place tidy. She’s actually on that S4C programme, what’s it called, ‘Good Afternoon’ or whatever, giving cleaning tips. She has a ten-minute segment every now and then. She’s very good.’ There is no one in rugby who headhunts quite as ruthlessly as Wayne Pivac.

Right now, though, he needs all the help he can get as the Scarlets try to land a show-stopping double; odds on already for the play-offs in the Pro14 and away in Dublin this weekend in a European semi-final against Leinster, a team – you sense – who don’t find the Scarlets’ musketeer style much to their liking. Certainly the Fishguard/Rosslare ferry on Friday afternoon will be wheezing across the Irish Sea as 3,000 plus make the pilgrimage to Ireland. Last one out of Llanelli, please turn out the lights.

‘You know there are people who spend every spare penny they’ve got on following this team. They’re not on big incomes but they’re at all our away games so we owe it to them every time we take the field to be as passionate as they are. We can put some smiles on faces; we can even, I’m told, increase productivity in the town if we win. And we won the Pro12 last year after losing our first three games and here we are in a European semi final after losing our first two games. It’s challenging but exciting and it’s exactly where we wanted to be.

As for the Welsh job, well there’s only so much Pivac can say publicly. But, clearly, with so many Scarlets now in Test shirts, the success of the side in the Pro14 and in Europe together with a Welsh coaching team – you would have to assume – that’s ready to move lock, stock and barrel alongside him, he becomes not just the Likely Lad but the Local Likely Lad. Certainly that’s the pitch. ‘I see myself now as a Welsh Coach. This is my home and my whole life revolves around the Scarlets. I’ve had a taste of international rugby with Fiji and I’d definitely like to do it again one day.’

Certainly the informal talks have already been exhaustive. The grapevine suggests the final discussions will be in May with a decision announced in the summer. And, let’s be honest, if Wales don’t snaffle him post RWC 2019, rest assured someone else will. He has pedigree, international experience, a proven record of success and, uniquely, has had the last two World Cup winning coaches – Henry and Hansen – working under him at varying points in his career. And if that doesn’t land him the Welsh job, nothing will.

16 APRIL 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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