Wales' injury crisis will be my toughest challenge, admits Pivac

Wales’ injury crisis will be my toughest challenge, admits Wayne Pivac as boss is robbed of eight Lions for the Six Nations – and gets in his excuses already ahead of daunting title defence

  • Wales head coach Wayne Pivac knows his side are up against it in the Six Nations
  • Pivac has eight Lions missing that boast a mammoth 726 caps of Test experience
  • Choosing the Welsh squad proved an ‘interesting exercise’ with so many injured 
  • Preparing this squad is going to be the ‘most challenging’ to date for Wales

When he announced his Wales squad to defend their Six Nations title on Tuesday, Wayne Pivac spent just as long talking about the players he wasn’t able to select as the ones he did.

Pivac has had the spine of his team which claimed the 2021 Championship ripped out and it is difficult to escape the feeling Wales will struggle without their eight absent British & Irish Lions.

While Eddie Jones had the luxury of being able to leave out the likes of George Ford and Mako and Billy Vunipola from his England party on form grounds, Pivac was left scratching about to fill his roster. 

Wales are without Alun Wyn Jones along with seven other British and Irish Lions through injury

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac has had the spine of his team ripped out ahead of Six Nations

Lions Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Taulupe Faletau, Justin Tipuric, George North, Leigh Halfpenny, Josh Navidi and Dan Lydiate will all miss the next two months.

Pivac did not attempt to sugar-coat the situation. He admitted his team are firmly up against it.

Pivac’s eight missing Lions boast a mammoth 726 caps of Test experience combined and between them have won 12 Six Nations Grand Slams and 14 Championship titles.

WALES’ FALLEN LIONS 

Defending Six Nations champions Wales are without eight British & Irish Lions for the 2022 campaign due to injury. 

Their missing eight boast a mammoth total of 726 caps between them, if you include Lions Test appearances as well as 12 Six Nations Grand Slams and 14 Championship titles.

Alun Wyn Jones

Current injury: Shoulder

Wales caps: 149

Lions caps: 12

Total caps: 161

Six Nations Grand Slams: 3

Six Nations titles: 2

Ken Owens

Current injury: Back

Wales caps: 82

Lions caps: 5

Total caps: 87

Six Nations Grand Slams: 2

Six Nations titles: 2

Taulupe Faletau

Current injury: Ankle

Wales caps: 86

Lions caps: 5

Total caps: 91

Six Nations Grand Slams: 1

Six Nations titles: 2

Justin Tipuric

Current injury: Shoulder

Wales caps: 85

Lions caps: 1

Total caps: 86

Six Nations Grand Slams: 1

Six Nations titles: 2

George North

Current Injury: Knee

Wales caps: 102

Lions caps: 3

Total caps: 105

Six Nations Grand Slams: 2

Six Nations titles: 2

Leigh Halfpenny

Current Injury: Knee

Wales caps: 96

Lions caps: 4

Total caps: 100

Six Nations Grand Slams: 1

Six Nations titles: 2

Josh Navidi

Current Injury: Shoulder

Wales caps: 28

Lions caps: 0 (but toured in South Africa in 2021)

Total caps: 28

Six Nations Grand Slams: 1

Six Nations titles: 1

Dan Lydiate

Current Injury: Knee

Wales caps: 65

Lions caps: 3

Total caps: 68

Six Nations Grand Slams: 1

Six Nations titles: 1

Other Wales players also out injured: Elliot Dee, Josh Macleod, Johnny Williams, James Botham

 

‘You don’t replace that number of caps overnight,’ said Pivac. 

He then added: ‘We’re hamstrung a little bit by our availability. 

‘Preparing this squad is going to be the most challenging for us to date.

‘I’d challenge any side to lose that amount of experience and come out over-confident.’

It sounded like Pivac was getting his excuses in early ahead of what could be a potentially daunting run of fixtures, but any Wales fan must surely realise the odds on them retaining their title are justly slim. 

With his captain, the iconic lock forward Jones, recovering from shoulder surgery and Owens also out, Pivac has turned to a Lion who is fit in Dan Biggar to captain his team.

Northampton fly-half Biggar is perhaps a surprise choice given he can be hot-headed on the field, but he is undoubtedly a certain Wales starter and a supreme player.

Ellis Jenkins, who captained Wales to autumn victories over Fiji and Australia, is in the squad although Pivac hinted he is not guaranteed a starting spot in the back-row.

Lock Adam Beard, who also toured South Africa with the Lions last summer, is Biggar’s vice-captain while Dewi Lake, Jac Morgan and James Ratti are uncapped players.

‘I think the captaincy will add to Dan’s game,’ Pivac said.

‘It’s well-documented Dan is very competitive and speaks his mind. 

‘We don’t want to change that, but we want him to take on the role as captain and the duties that go with that with referees.

‘The feedback we’ve had from Northampton is Dan is an excellent role model. 

‘We’ve selected him in in most games since 2019 so clearly, we like him as a player

‘He’s relishing the opportunity. I know he’ll do a very good job.’

In the Autumn Nations Cup of 2020 following the first Covid-19 lockdown, Wales had a sorry campaign in which they beat only minnows Georgia and Italy.

They then rose from the canvas at the start of 2021 to, surprisingly, win the Six Nations as they were boosted by the availability of their best players. 

This is not the case now.

Further, Wales’ home-based players will go into the Six Nations woefully underdone in terms of both form and fitness.

Before Christmas, both Cardiff and Scarlets got stuck in South Africa as the Omicron variant began to surge and were forced into long quarantine spells.

The Ospreys and Dragons have been hit hard by positive coronavirus tests and all four Welsh sides have seen games abandoned.

This has been through no fault of their own, but when combined with the number of injuries, it spells trouble. 

Ireland – who famously claimed the scalp of New Zealand in November – are first up for Wales in Dublin.

The Aviva Stadium has not been a happy hunting ground for them in recent years.

‘Just selecting this squad was an interesting exercise,’ Pivac said. 

‘It hasn’t been ideal preparation, but those players, through no fault of their own, have been put in that situation. 

‘The first two weeks are going to be critical. 

‘It’s going to be a great challenge, but it’s certainly about starting the competition well and building, as we did last year.

‘The Ireland game becomes paramount for us.’




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