Wayne Pivac has made a handful of changes to his Wales side to welcome Scotland this weekend.
Ireland were comfortable Six Nations winners at the Aviva Stadium last Saturday on what was a sobering afternoon for men in red jerseys.
The 29-7 scoreline flattered Wales and they will have to put in some performance this weekend to turn it around against a Scotland side buoyed by their victory over England.
Here’s what Pivac had to say at his Thursday press conference about his team selection, including a new-look back-row featuring Jac Morgan and Ross Moriarty, and what’s in store at the Principality Stadium…
Question: Wayne, talk us through your selections in the back row?
Wayne Pivac: On reflection, we clearly didn’t achieve what we wanted to out in Dublin. Part of it was getting parity in terms of the physical side of the game – whether that is ball-carrying, cleaning rucks, big defence, that sort of thing – we came up short, there is no hiding from that fact.
Jac has trained very well. He is a very abrasive sort of player, and Ross we know is very strong in that area. We’ve leaned that way, it gives us something different.
Q: Will Taine Basham and Jac Morgan play as two opensides?
WP: Obviously, they are both sevens. Taine has played as an eight a lot in age-grade rugby and early part of his senior career, so it is not foreign to him to shift around the back-row.
Q: Jac has risen to prominence pretty quickly?
WP: It just goes to show. There are performances on the park in a Test match that obviously carry a lot of weight, but it is also what you do in training, and he has certainly done everything asked of him.
We are all looking forward to seeing Jac out there. It will be a great opportunity for him and his family.
Q: How bad is Josh Adams’ injury?
WP: If you are talking a World Cup and the knockout stage, you would probably give it a go, but it is just one of those ones where we don’t think it is worth the risk because if it does worsen, then that would be him gone for the rest of the tournament and quite some time.
Q: Would you have picked him at 13 again if he was fit?
WP: It was certainly a discussion we were having. There has been a lot of talk about that selection.
When you break down the performance, we certainly don’t think that him playing at 13 was the cause for the tries they scored. He did a lot of good work at 13.
Q: Is Willis Halaholo fit and talk us through the selection of Owen Watkin?
WP: In terms of Willis and the hamstring, he has been cleared. Really now, with Willis it is a matter of getting some volume into him and just the sharpness he needs to get back to play at Test level. Certainly, he is heading in the right direction.
Owen Watkin, he’s gone away – he was left out of a squad or two – and has worked very hard. He’s very keen, and he gets an opportunity. He is in a confident mood.
Q: Why have you gone for Alex Cuthbert on the wing?
WP: He was injured, so he wasn’t considered last week. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s quick, we know that.
He is a very good finisher, as we saw against Fiji. Hopefully, we get the ball in his hands a little bit more than we did last week.
If we get some ball where we are moving forward on to the ball, which is what the backs want, then I am sure he will be able to show us what he can do.
Q: Are you expecting some sort of reaction this week?
WP: An improvement across the board, really. The players are very critical of themselves. They’re very disappointed after the game last week. They have worked very hard so far through this week.
They are desperate to go out there and show we are a much better team than the display we put on last week.
Across the board, everybody in the camp was very disappointed with last week. We are at home, we are in front of 75,000 people, and we owe it to ourselves and our public to put on a better display, as simple as that.
Q: Scotland are coming down here full of confidence?
WP: I don’t think they have had back-to-back wins against England since the 80s. Certainly, they hadn’t won at Twickenham for a long time last year, or France.
You have got to respect the Scotland side. They are a very good side, they have got a number of Lions.
They showed last week that they fight for every blade of grass, and that is certainly what we have got to be doing on the weekend.
We have to match that, and then bring some on top of that. It is going to be a very hard-fought game, we know that, and it is a Scotland team coming full of confidence.
Q: Dan Biggar and Jonathan Davies are on for their 100th caps this weekend – what does that say about them?
WP: The coaching group was talking about that this morning, actually, when we finalised the fact that Jonathan would be involved and we’d have two players playing 100 Test matches.
I know it’s fantastic to play 100 Test matches for Wales and that’s the big one, but the British and Irish Lions are Test matches and they’re against three of the top sides in the world in New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.
When you play 100 Test matches, it says a couple of things. The resilience, the ability to get selected week in, week out for a long period of time, so their form is always good.
Those players work hard, they make sacrifices.
Jonathan has had some major injuries along the way and I think he would have had well over 100 games for Wales by now if it hadn’t been for injuries.
To persevere through those darker times and get back to the level that he’s been operating at… I think we’re slowly seeing the Jonathan of old in training and it takes a bit of time after an ACL injury like he had, to get back that little bit of pace.
I just take my hat off to Jonathan and the work he’s done.
Dan has been one of the best goal kickers in the world. He’s our general and one of our big leaders. I’m looking forward to them getting out there and celebrating.
Q: How long can they go on for?
WP: I think in the modern era, there are a lot of resources around the players compared to a few decades ago.
The sky’s the limit if they keep themselves fit. It’s strength and conditioning and if they get a little bit of luck with the body.
The average age of players is a little bit higher than it used to be, so who knows.
I always say that if you’re playing well enough, then you’re good enough, rather than what is on the birth certificate.
Q: How important are players like these for someone like a Jac Morgan, just making his debut?
WP: It certainly helps. You see it in training. If you take a few guys out, it does make a difference in terms of not just what you see on the field but it’s the preparation and the experience they bring.
It’s not only on the training field but also in the classrooms. To have Jonathan and Biggsy is great for those young guys and they learn a lot from them.
Q: You’ve gone with dual-opensides a few times – are you happy with the balance in this back row?
WP: We all know what we haven’t got, so it’s a matter of what we have got. Looking ahead to Saturday, the opposition we’ve got and the conditions we might be playing in, we think the enthusiasm and qualities Jac will bring, as well as Taine’s speed and power – it’s not a bad combination.
We’re going to lack in the lineout as a result, let’s be honest, they’re not the tallest of men so we’ve got to be a little bit creative in what we do there. It’s a good challenge for the coaches but I just think it’s exciting, seeing those two on the pitch at the same time.
Ross was very keen to start and we’re hoping he’ll go well at 8.
Q: You didn’t call Jac up as quickly as some would have liked, now you’ve got him in camp, what do you like about him?
WP: We just felt that Taine was playing well and we had a few other options 12 months ago.
He’s come through and he’s learned a lot very quickly. He’s shown that now when given the opportunity.
They’re slightly different players and I think there is room for both types. We’ve had a guy like Josh Navidi in the past, who is a mixture of the two, really.
We’re really pleased Jac has the opportunity. You’ve just got to see the boy in training, he deserves the opportunity.
He’s been throwing himself about and I think you’ll see a big performance. He certainly won’t be lacking in effort.
Q: Is Louis Rees-Zammit fully fit after his ankle injury last weekend?
WP: Yeah, he just rolled it in the warm-up. It wasn’t sufficient enough to keep him out of the game but he’s come through the week really well.
The medical team have done a great job, he hasn’t missed a training session, so he’s fine.
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