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Jackson column: No bumps in the road for Wayne Pivac in his first match

As international coaching initiations go, Wayne Pivac’s appears to be about as friendly as they come – home advantage against the Six Nations’ perennial chopping blocks.

Italy’s biennial visit on Saturday presents the Grand Slammers with every prospect not just of a winning start but a flying one, a five-pointer.    Alun Wyn Jones’ warning of ‘a bumpy ride’, a statement of the obvious given the nature of the tournament, presumably applies to Dublin the following week and Twickenham next month.

Pivac’s ultimate objective, to recreate Wales in the image of the Scarlets as they were two years ago when their exhilarating brand of rugby made the national team look almost boring by comparison, will require delicate changes to the mechanism.

Taking off the wrong chain at the wrong time is liable to disturb the balance of the entire operation.   Uncoupling the right one at the right time will still cause turbulence, enough for everyone to feel the bumps but if Wales are to improve they have to create more, even if that means sacrificing a barricade or two.

Nobody dare accuse Pivac of not having served his time, a long process stretching back to his time as a constable on the beat when he ran the New Zealand Police team in tandem with two other novice coaches, Steve Hansen and the scrum doctor, Mike Cron.

The WRU’s propensity for appointing Kiwis gave Pivac’s career a mighty leg up the ladder as a direct consequence of Graham Henry taking flight to Cardiff more than 20 years ago in return for £250,000-a-year which made him the highest-paid coach in the game.

Pivac succeeded him as head honcho of the provincial team at Eden Park before making the same journey to Wales, albeit at regional level. He and his specialist coaching triumvirate, Stephen Jones, Jonathan Humphreys, Byron Hayward, have earned the right to run Wales their way.

Italy first up ought to be the ideal start although Jones, for one, has reason to be wary.  He was in the midst of operations 14 years ago when a missed penalty from his opposite number, Ramiro Pez, allowed Wales to escape with a draw they scarcely deserved.

For Pivac, it is better to start with a game that he dare not lose rather than one impossible to win, a fait accompli as faced by the first Welsh national coach in the shape of Brian Lochore’s All Blacks.

Graham Henry
Big money: Graham Henry became the highest-paid international coach in rugby when he took the reins at Wales in 1998. David Rogers /Allsport

First Test matches for Pivac’s predecessors:

David Nash: (October 1967, Cardiff Arms Park) Wales 3 New Zealand 13

A Lion in his own right, Nash became his country’s first honorary coach only to resign at the end of the season after the WRU refused to rubber-stamp his appointment for the summer tour of Argentina. They voted to send a committee man instead.

Clive Rowlands: (February 1969, Murrayfield) Wales 17 Scotland 3

Motivator supreme, ‘Top Cat’ would have won the Grand Slam at the first attempt the following year but for a penalty miss in a draw at Stade Colombes.

John Dawes: (November 1974, Cardiff Arms Park) Wales 3 New Zealand 12

Despite the presence of eight Lions from the series wins over the All Blacks and Springboks, Wales under their ex-captain finished a distant second.

John Lloyd: (January 1980, Cardiff Arms Park) Wales 18 France 9

Another captain-cum-head coach, the Bridgend hooker began in some style with four Welsh home tries against the French for the first time in 30 years.

John Bevan: (February 1983, Cardiff Arms Park) Wales 13 England 13

The former Aberavon fly-half ran the national team for three seasons before ill-health forced him to resign in 1985. He died the following year at the age of 38.

Tony Gray: (March 1985, Murrayfield) Scotland 21 Wales 25

Only North Walian to hold the position, Gray steered Wales into third place at the inaugural World Cup, still their only podium finish. Took them to a Grand Slam decider the next season and the WRU rewarded him with the boot.

John Ryan: (November 1988, Cardiff Arms Park) Wales 28 Western Samoa 6

A dream start and almost a Grand Slam at the finish followed by a near whitewash. A heavy beating on their Twickenham return, 34-6, forced Ryan to quit.

Ron Waldron: (March 1990, Cardiff Arms Park) Wales 9 Scotland 13

Promoted at short notice on the strength of building Neath into a dominant force, the ex-Wales prop rapidly discovered Test rugby was a very different ball game. Despite picking seven Neath players for the first match and eight for the second, Wales kept losing.

Alan Davies: (September 1991, Cardiff Arms Park) Wales 9 France 22

Succeeded Waldron at indecently short notice, steadied a rocking ship and presided over some notable wins, most famously against Will Carling’s England.

Alex Evans: (May 1995, Bloemfontein) Wales 57 Japan 10

Another eleventh hour change of head coach before another doomed World Cup. The Australian took charge on the strength of his relative success with Cardiff only to stand down later that same year due to ill-health.

Kevin Bowring: (January 1996, Cardiff Arms Park) Wales 31 Italy 26

After one match in a caretaker capacity, took charge armed with a four-year contract through to the 1999 World Cup, supposedly. Heavy losses to England at Twickenham and France at Wembley, then Wales’ temporary home, put paid to that.

Graham Henry: (November 1998, Wembley) Wales 20, South Africa 28

Arrived with the fattest contract in the game, five years at £250,000-a-year,  about five times more than the same WRU had paid his predecessor. Ambushed an English Grand Slam at Wembley but no real impact on global stage.

Steve Hansen: (February 2002, Millennium Stadium) Wales 33 France 37

A moral victory compared to the previous match, a 54-10 hammering in Dublin which convinced Henry his time with Wales had come to an end. Learnt a great deal in adversity of which there was a lot, like nine straight defeats.

Mike Ruddock: (November 2004, Millennium St) Wales 34 South Africa 36

A thrilling start followed by a Grand Slam in the grand manner, followed by resignations after two rounds of the title defence. Never a dull moment.

Gareth Jenkins: (June 2006, Puerto Madryn) Argentina 27 Wales 25

Should have had the job a few years earlier and deserved far better than the unceremonious sacking in France on the Sunday morning after their early knock-out from the 2007 World Cup.

Warren Gatland: (February 2008, Twickenham) England 19 Wales 26

Inherited a struggling squad and turned them into Grand Slammers. Outplayed  for most of the first half, they came from behind on a day when England almost ran out of back row forwards.


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