As with any job, it’s tough following someone who was very good at it. You get told you have ‘big boots to fill’ whilst also being encouraged to stamp your own identity on the role. It’s especially hard when you’re a coach, and your predecessor had been consistently successful in your role – taking the team you now coach on record breaking unbeaten runs or leading them to the top of the world rankings.
This is the task faced by both Wayne Pivac and Andy Farrell, as they lead Wales and Ireland respectively in their first Six Nations campaigns this year. They will be acutely aware of the success of their predecessors. With Wales, Warren Gatland became the first coach to win three Six Nations Slams whilst Ireland under Joe Schmidt went into last year’s World Cup as the world’s number one ranked team. However, Pivac and Farrell must also attempt to engender a new ethos and philosophy in the two teams, who ultimately had a difficult end to last year’s World Cup.
This week, the two men selected their respective international squads for the first time. Giving the first impression of the direction they intend to take their teams. Andy Farrell’s squad selection has been defined by his choice to pick fly-half Johnny Sexton as captain, whilst Wayne Pivac has named five uncapped players in his Six Nations squad and nine players that play for clubs in England.
Johnny Sexton is 34, and although being one of Ireland’s most experienced players, certainly won’t be around for the next World Cup. Furthermore, former team-mate Brian O’Driscoll has voiced concern over his temperament, warning against Sexton’s tendency to be antagonistic towards referees.
Selecting Sexton as Rory Best’s replacement is a rather conservative choice from Farrell. The braver decision would have been to appoint James Ryan whose age and ability would have seen him be able to work alongside Farrell for the whole four-year World Cup cycle.
Meanwhile, Pivac has shown more encouraging signs of introducing a breath of fresh air to his Wales side. The notable selection is uncapped teenager Louis Rees-Zammit. The 18-year-old Gloucester wing has scored nine tries and twelve appearances this season and was named Premiership December player of the month. Rees-Zammit’s selection represents a marked approach by Pivac to select more players playing outside of Wales.
“We don’t have the biggest pool to select from,” said Pivac. “Looking within the rules, we think we’ve come up with a reasonably balanced team.”
Of the two, I’d say Pivac has made a better impression than Farrell with his Six Nations squad selection, however, ultimately it will come down to performances on the pitch.
Written by Will Sewell.