6N: Welsh experience pivotal in Grand Slam bid, Pivac says

Wales coach Wayne Pivac is banking on the experience of a starting lineup containing almost 1,000 international rugby caps getting the team over the line in its bid for a Grand Slam-clinching victory against France in the Six Nations on Saturday.

Fourteen of the 15 players starting in Paris are already Grand Slam winners from 2019, when Pivac was coaching at club level with the Scarlets.

So Pivac has taken a step back at times this week, with captain Alun Wyn Jones — the most capped test player of all time with 156 for Wales and the British and Irish Lions combined — leading some of the in-group chats.

“It’s about on Saturday bringing all the mental energy and physically being right,” Pivac said on a video call on Thursday. “This week is about getting the boys with a full tank of gas for Saturday, making sure we don’t overtrain the game and overplay it too early on.

“No matter what level of game you’re at, when you’ve got senior players there, they are the guys who have to play the game on the field so you are wanting that input all the time. It’s about getting the balance right from coaches and players. When you’ve got 14 of the 15 starting players in the lineup who have won a Grand Slam before, you want that experience and those conversations to come out.”

The Welsh have got to this stage by beating Ireland and Scotland teams which were reduced to 14 men in their games, by beating England thanks to a good start and finish, and getting a typically straightforward win over Italy.

So, it was put to Pivac, would Wales’ class of 2021 be the least convincing Grand Slam-winning team in a generation?

“We’ve built as we’ve gone,” said the New Zealander, who came into the Six Nations under pressure after just three wins in 10 matches in his first year as Wales coach in 2020. “You don’t become the perfect team overnight. It takes time and we are nowhere near perfect, we know that.

“We have our own motivation and with the amount of guys who have been in this position before, it’s not new to them and they are very focused on producing an 80-minute performance this weekend.”

A narrow defeat could still clinch the title — if not the Grand Slam — for Wales and that has not gone unnoticed by Pivac, who said the players and staff would have discussions throughout the game about the scenarios in play.

Wales starts the game nine points ahead of third-placed France, which has a postponed game against Scotland still to play.

Pivac also said parts of training this week have been tailored according to the fact that Wales has conceded most of its points this tournament in minutes 20-40 of matches, whereas France has gained most of its points in that quarter.

“What we need to do is make sure we go into the dressing room well and truly in the game and that’ll be a big emphasis for us,” he said. “Discipline in that second quarter is going to be huge because finals come down to fine margins at times.”

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