Wayne Pivac: Wales are 'focused and motivated' to complete grand slam

In less than four months Wayne Pivac has gone from being slammed to the cusp of securing the grand slam. Victory against France in Paris on Saturday night would seal an achievement that looked more impossible than improbable after Wales finished fifth in the 2020 Six Nations and failed to leave a mark on the undistinguishe Autumn Nations Cup.

And yet the starting lineup at Stade de France contains 14 players who have previously won a grand slam. The 20-year old wing Louis Rees-Zammit, whose three tries in the opening two rounds helped to reverse losing positions, is the exception as Pivac leans on players who were brought through by his predecessor, Warren Gatland.

It was not just the four successive defeats in the 2020 Six Nations but the unflattering comparison to the successful 12-year tenure of Gatland, when the grand slam was secured three times, that led to calls for the former New Zealand policeman to hand in his badge.

“When you have been coaching for a while, you draw on experiences,” Pivac said when asked if the results last year had addled him with self-doubt. “I was lucky enough to be involved with some pretty good teams and had some results: it can take time to get things rolling. There are always highs and lows and you have to make sure there are more highs. I would have been concerned if it was not a happy camp but the environment off the field spoke volumes about where the team was at.”

Pivac has made one change from the side which crushed Italy in Rome last weekend, with Adam Beard returning to the second row after being rested. The team that take the field in Paris will share 987 caps among them, a number that will increase to four figures once the match begins.

“We have a lot of experience to call on and that is a great place to be,” said Pivac, whose side have been dismissed as the least impressive grand slam contenders in living memory. “That means they can focus on a performance and not be worried by external motivation. We know we are nowhere near perfect, but we have built as we have gone on, worked very hard and we are focused and motivated.”

France will secure the title if they win their two remaining games with a bonus point, assuming the postponed match against Scotland is played next week, and either deny Wales a losing bonus or overtake them on points difference. They have named the same side that lost against England at Twickenham last Saturday in what will be their first home appearance of the campaign.

“We were very satisfied with the performance of the team generally, as we are with its potential,” the France head coach, Fabian Galthié, gesê. “What we need to do is bounce back against Wales. The focus is on performing well and winning the game. Then there will be elements to consider.”

Seven of Wales’s past nine grand slams have been secured with a victory against France but only one in Paris, in 1971, when nine of the side were lining up for the Lions in the first Test against New Zealand three months later. It is the only time since the second world war they have achieved a clean sweep on the road.

“France are a very good side as we know from our two games against them [laas jaar],” said Pivac. “They controlled the game against England for long periods and were probably desperately unlucky at the end. They have quality across the park and they come up with great plays. They have a lot of attacking threats and we will have to have our wits about us. Our back three will have a lot of work to do.”

France are at their most prolific in the second quarter of a match, the period when Wales have been most vulnerable this year. “We have been working on that,” said Pivac. “We score a lot of points at the end and we have to go into the dressing room [at half‑time] well and truly in the game. Wanneer 14 of your starters have won the grand slam, it spreads confidence across the group.”

Would Wales regard a title without the grand slam as a success? “Winning the slam would be fantastic as would winning the championship,” said Pivac. “If we ended up second, it would be a big improvement.”

The No 8 Taulupe Faletau, a grand slammer in 2012, was less equivocal. “If we won the championship, great," hy het gesê, “but anything other than the slam would be a disappointment, surely.”

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