England ahead of Wales: Why Pivac needs time and the midfield combination

Eddie Jones took charge of England in 2015

When England play Wales on Saturday, there will perhaps never have been more of a contrast between the two head coaches. 

Eddie Jones is a Six Nations winner in 2020, rolling into Llanelli on the back of two consecutive Autumn Nations Cup victories and the odds heavily in his favour. Wayne Pivac, in comparison, will arrive at the Parc y Scarlets having won just his second game as Wales head coach.

With the departures of Sam Warburton and Byron Hayward from the New Zealander’s coaching panel - leaving many with doubts over how competitive the side would be this Autumn anyway - the gloss has seemingly left Welsh rugby, 20 months after a Grand Slam.

Despite coming into this game as favourites, Jones believes that Wales could be galvanised through the prospect of playing England.

“They’re in a situation they probably relish,” Jones said. “They have been written off, they are playing at the heart and soul of Welsh rugby, at the Llanelli ground, so there is a lot of symbolism for them and nothing would make their season sweeter than having a win over England, so we are expecting a really tough, brutal sort of game. 

“Twelve months ago they were Grand Slam champions and three points off making a World Cup final, so they have got the same players. They are a talented team and we are going to have to be at our best to meet the challenge that they are going to put out.”

Jones was also quick to recognise that Pivac is still finding his way in the Wales hot seat. For the England head coach, this was different as he largely stuck with the same squad for his first two Six Nations tournaments, before slowly transitioning the team to its peak at the 2019 World Cup.

Owen Farrell was named England captain in 2019

Naturally, no two people go about their processes in the same way, and Jones says that Pivac still needs time to find his way as the nation begins a new era following the 12-year tenure of Warren Gatland. 

“He had a great run with the Scarlets and deserves the opportunity to coach Wales, but now is a tough time for him, particularly the media is going at him, but he needs to be given time," Jones said. "At this time, you just need a bit of time as a coach.

“He has taken over from a successful coach in Warren Gatland, who has done a great job with Wales. He wants to play a slightly different way, which always comes with criticism. I am sure he deserves the time to be a good coach for Wales and he will be but at the moment, when you see a board member and they turn the other way, it becomes difficult. You start looking at shadows in the corner, you start seeing meetings between other people and it is a tough time. Hopefully, he will get some time.”

On the pitch, George Ford will be starting his first game for England since March, which was coincidentally the last time England played Wales. He will be starting in the midfield with his captain, Owen Farrell, and Exeter’s Henry Slade.

It is the first time that the three players have combined in such a way since the 2018 tour of South Africa, starting together in both of England's defeats against the Springboks. Many considered it as a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth with each of the three players known as being playmakers at club level.

In many ways, Jones’ hands have been tied by having to rest the impressive Ollie Lawrence due to a hip issue but this despite this, England’s captain says that each of he, Ford and Slade will have a say in how the side attack.

“I don’t think it is always down to one person anyway,” Farrell said. “People have tendencies in the way that they play, and they naturally go to what their strengths are but I think at the same time, we have got a backline that is able to do what is needed and that could be anything. 

“That is not just to say that the centres are going to have to get us going forward. We have got an unbelievably athletic backline that can pose threats all over the field and sometimes it is not necessarily a direct go forward in the positions that everyone expects it to do. It is about having deception and going forward in the right areas that presents themselves. 

“I think what we need to do as a team and as a backline is prepare for whatever is needed and play with our heads up and play with some feel for what is needed in the game.”

England Fixtures