Wayne Pivac has eyes on 2023 World Cup as he names first Wales squad

Wayne Pivac says he is already building towards the 2023 Rugby World Cup after naming his first squad as Wales head coach.

Pivac’s 35-man group for a non-cap game against the Barbarians in Cardiff on November 30 includes New Zealand-born backs Johnny McNicholl and Willis Halaholo, who both qualify on residency.

Three other uncapped players have been named in Ashton Hewitt, Shane Lewis-Hughes and Taine Basham, while 22 of the squad were involved at the World Cup in Japan.

Former Scarlets boss Pivac will encounter a Barbarians side coached by his Wales predecessor Warren Gatland, whose 12-year reign ended after the World Cup.

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, who has a groin niggle, is among a number of star names not included, with Pivac having already been hit by several injuries, including those to Jonathan Davies, Rhys Patchell and Tomas Francis.

Pivac’s appointment to succeed Gatland was announced last year, and he said: “We’ve talked long and hard about how we can add value to what is already a successful rugby team. If something is not broken, then we move on.

“The beauty of having been in this position behind the scenes for over 12 months now, it has given me plenty of time to have lots of meetings, discuss a lot of rugby issues with a lot of people and to find the views of many.

Johnny McNicholl has been called up for Wales
Johnny McNicholl has been called up for Wales (David Davies/PA)

“The selection of this group, part of it is on the here and now for the Baa-baas game, part of it is looking at players and getting information for the pending Six Nations, but also with an eye on 2023 (World Cup).

“I think most opponents would say Wales are a very hard team to break down and beat, so that’s not a bad position to be starting from.

“We are building towards 2023. We have looked at the boys’ performances at the World Cup this season. We looked at what we think we need to do to be able to knock off England, New Zealand or South Africa on a given day at a World Cup.

“I think it is going to be managing expectation early. A lot of people are going to expect us to be throwing the ball around willy-nilly. It’s going to be horses for courses.

📹 Pivac excited to get going with Wales…. pic.twitter.com/RlRpunTmm1

— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) November 19, 2019

“We have got to get ourselves into a position where we create opportunities and then play to our strengths, which hopefully will be a wide game and a power game to go with it.”

England-based players such as Northampton fly-half Dan Biggar were unavailable for selection.

But Scarlets prop Rob Evans, who missed out on the World Cup, features in the squad and there are also opportunities for the likes of recalled number 10 Sam Davies and Dragons back-row forward Ollie Griffiths.

On Scarlets back McNicholl and Cardiff Blues centre Halaholo, Pivac added: “Johnny I personally know a lot about. Willis I had in the Auckland age-groups when I was coaching Auckland, so I know his background. They are both very exciting attacking players.

Willis Halaholo is in the Wales squad
Willis Halaholo is in the Wales squad (David Davies/PA)

“It is an opportunity for us to get Willis into the mix and have a look at him.

“We spoke to him earlier in the season about parts of his game that we like and parts we think he can work on, as we do with most players.

“This Barbarians game is a great chance for us as a new squad and management to get together and to set the scene for what we are looking to do.

“Having this opportunity ahead of tournament rugby in the Six Nations is ideal for us.

“It is also a great chance for some players to really put their hand up and show what they are about and take to the field in front of a big crowd at home.”

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