Wales 21 Italy 22
Wayne Pivac believes that Wales must "stay strong" and show belief after their Guinness Six Nations campaign ended in shambolic fashion.
A year on from winning the title, Wales collapsed at home to wooden spoonists Italy. It was their first loss in Cardiff to the Azzurri, who had not won a Six Nations game in their previous 36 attempts across a demoralising seven-year period. Although head coach Pivac has credit in the bank following last season’s title triumph, he has now seen Wales lose 15 of 27 Tests since he succeeded Warren Gatland following the 2019 World Cup.
Eighteen months before rugby union’s next global spectacular, Pivac finds himself addressing a second fifth-placed finish from his three Six Nations campaigns. What should have been a day of celebration in the Cardiff sunshine for captain Dan Biggar and lock Alun Wyn Jones, who won their 100th and 150th Wales caps, respectively, imploded spectacularly as Italy claimed a stunning 22-21 victory. Biggar said immediately after the game that it had been “probably the last chance for a lot of players”, and life is not about to get any easier, with Wales’s next three Tests being away from home against world champions South Africa in July.
“It is a backward step – there is no doubt about that, and there is no hiding from that,” Pivac said. “It is fine margins, but we have to stay strong and believe in what we are doing. This group does that, and we believe in the players that we have. “We will review the whole competition, look at the positives and negatives and make sure we build from this campaign. We have to, because if we don’t, it has been a waste of time.”
Pivac’s future will inevitably be debated on Welsh rugby’s intense public platform. “They are entitled to their view,” he said. “There are people in positions higher up than myself that make the decisions you are alluding to. Look, I am not bothered by that.
“There is always emotion, and we wouldn’t be playing a game of rugby if there wasn’t a lot of emotion involved. You have to take a big, deep breath, count to 10, sleep on it, let those emotions subside and in the cold light of day reflect and look at the performance, break it down piece by piece. We didn’t play to our potential, we believe, so we have to find out why that was.”
Although the likes of Alun Wyn Jones, Josh Navidi and Taulupe Faletau returned from injuries at various stages of the Six Nations, Pivac did not have their fellow British and Irish Lions George North, Leigh Halfpenny, Ken Owens and Justin Tipuric for the entire tournament. And while those absences must be viewed as a mitigating factor, the reality is that Wales lost four games out of five, scored just eight tries and performed only in patches.
“If people look at the squad we had in the Six Nations last year and what was missing, there are a few to come back,” Pivac said. “We believe we have the nucleus of a group now which is building good depth, we add to that with a few boys coming back and we feel we are in a strong position.
“We’ve had a good look at a number of players over the last couple of seasons. What we would like now is to have a period of time where we don’t have too many major injuries.
“It is probably the lowest point in most of the players’ careers in terms of pulling on the Welsh jersey and the pride they have in doing that.
“A game at home against Italy, losing that was certainly not in the script, so it is very, very disappointing.”
Wales: McNicholl, Rees-Zammit, Watkin, Halaholo, Adams, Biggar, G. Davies, Thomas, Lake, Lewis, Beard, A. Jones, S. Davies, Navidi, Faletau. Replacements: Sheedy for McNicholl (59), Tompkins for Halaholo (46), Hardy for G. Davies (66), W. Jones for Thomas (59), Brown for Lewis (41), Rowlands for A. Jones (59), Moriarty for S. Davies (49). Not Used: Roberts.
Italy: Capuozzo, Padovani, Brex, Marin, Ioane, Garbisi, Braley, Fischetti, Nicotera, Ceccarelli, Fuser, Ruzza, Pettinelli, Lamaro, Halafihi. Replacements: Zanon for Marin (52), Fusco for Braley (59), Traore for Fischetti (69), Bigi for Nicotera (52), Alongi for Ceccarelli (52), Cannone for Fuser (47), Steyn for Halafihi (63). Not Used: Sisi.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)