Wales coach Wayne Pivac inherits quality and expectation from Warren Gatland

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Wales’ success under Gatland ‘unrivalled’ says captain Jones

Transitions of power are not always smooth.

After his party lost the 2010 general election, Labour Treasury minister Liam Byrne left his successors a memorable short note which stated blankly: "No money left."

Before a winter that may bring more political upheaval, Wales' departing head coach Warren Gatland hopes to leave a better inheritance for the heir to his throne, Wayne Pivac.

Gatland's own legacy is assured, thanks to a 12-year reign which has produced four Six Nations titles - including three Grand Slams - two World Cup semi-finals and a first stint as the world's number one-ranked side.

But as he approached his final match in charge - Wales' World Cup bronze match loss to New Zealand - Gatland had already been busy laying foundations for the future.

The New Zealander had built towards this tournament for years, always with one eye on what he was leaving behind.

Planning had been particularly focused during the past 24 months, during which Gatland gave debuts to seven of Wales' starting 15 against the All Blacks in Tokyo.

"I've always been conscious of what is being left behind and there are some young players that, particularly for the future, needed an opportunity to play against the All Blacks in a big game at the World Cup," Gatland said.

"We felt it was important we didn't just think about ourselves, it was looking at the bigger picture - which is what is good for Welsh rugby?"

As the Wales squad flew home on Monday, this was Gatland's passing of the flame before his return to New Zealand to take charge of Waikato Chiefs.

So when Pivac picks up the mantle and begins his new job, what will the former Scarlets coach find in his in-tray?

Nurture the next generation

Stephen Jones, Wayne Pivac and Jonathan Humphreys
Assistant coaches Stephen Jones (left) and Jonathan Humphreys (right) flank new Wales boss Wayne Pivac

After bowing out on Friday, Gatland said it would break his heart if Wales returned to the "doldrums" in which he found the team when he took over in 2007.

Thanks to his tenure of sustained success - and commitment to developing young players - a regression of that severity looks unlikely.

Gatland leaves his successor a squad which includes a raft of players who Pivac can expect to be around for the next World Cup in France in 2023.

In the squad of 23 to face New Zealand in Tokyo, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, James Davies, Tomos Williams, Josh Adams, Owen Watkin, Owen Lane, Elliot Dee, Rhys Carre, Wyn Jones and Hadleigh Parkes had all made their debuts in the past two years.

Apart from centre Parkes, flanker Davies and prop Jones, every one of those players was 25 years old or younger - and that was by design.

"Warren has given the likes of me and other youngsters a good opportunity," said 21-year-old wing Lane.

"What Warren has done has left the game in Wales in a really good place, and hopefully we can build on that going forward."

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Gatland leaves Wales in a good place - Lane

A late addition to the squad in Japan following an injury to Josh Navidi, Lane had been with the Wales squad less than a fortnight when he was given his first taste of World Cup action - and only his second cap - against the All Blacks.

It was telling that the Cardiff Blues wing was called up in the first place, with Gatland overlooking the 58-cap centre Scott Williams, who some may have considered the logical cover for Wales' injury-hit midfield.

Although Gatland is a great admirer of Williams, he was also mindful that, at 29 and having struggled with several injuries of his own in recent seasons, the Ospreys player may not represent the same long-term potential as Lane.

The wing will have learned a huge amount from the 40-17 defeat by the All Blacks, particularly as his opposite number Ben Smith produced a vintage display to score two tries in his final international appearance.

The same is true for the likes of props Carre and Lewis, among others, and Pivac will be looking to further their development when he begins his reign with a match against a Barbarian team coached by Gatland in Cardiff later this month, and then for real with the Six Nations in February.

Manage the senior figures

Jonathan Davies is consoled by Alun Wyn Jones, who holds his young daughter Efa in his arms
Jonathan Davies and Alun Wyn Jones have been mainstays of Warren Gatland's Wales team

Gatland will be a tough act to follow for Pivac, particularly in the Six Nations.

As the Welsh public has grown used to success in the competition over the past 12 years, expectations have increased enormously.

Pivac will need time to implement his own playing philosophy but, with that aforementioned Barbarians fixture his only game before the Six Nations, he may not have as much time as he might like.

With all that in mind, and with Wales as defending Grand Slam champions, Pivac will be eager to carry the momentum of the team's stellar 2019 into his first campaign.

Doing that will need continuity, not only among the younger players earmarked for the 2023 World Cup, but with the squad's senior figures who may not be setting their sights quite so far into the future.

Captain Alun Wyn Jones is as influential as ever and, as his World Rugby Player of the Year nomination demonstrates, he is still a world-class player at 34 years old.

Wales' record cap holder is contracted to the Welsh Rugby Union and the Ospreys until 2021 and, with a British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa that summer, Pivac would hope to have his skipper available for at least the next year-and-a-half.

Jones has alluded to the fact he may have played in his last World Cup, while Gatland suggested as many as nine or 10 of the 31-man Wales squad in Japan might have done so.

Hooker Ken Owens is 32, as is Parkes, while his centre partner Jonathan Davies is 31 and fly-half Dan Biggar turned 30 last month.

Even if another World Cup might be beyond some of them, there is no doubt they are all capable of excelling at Test level for the foreseeable future.

Passing on experience

So Pivac will look to them as leaders, hoping they can share their experience and knowledge with the younger members of the squad.

As Gatland said, Wales' smaller pool of players compared to many of their rivals means they have to "wring the sponge as dry as you possibly can" to compete.

The 56-year-old certainly did that over the course of his tenure and, fortunately for Pivac, there is still plenty to squeeze out of the squad he has inherited.

"We can look back and be very proud on what we've done, some of the things we've achieved, and the state we're leaving the squad in now," said forwards coach Robin McBryde, who is also departing after 12 years by Gatland's side.

"They're not coming to the end of their careers - a lot of them are just starting their careers and that can only be exciting."

Get the better of Gatland

Warren Gatland issues instructions during Wales training
Warren Gatland will coach the 2021 British and Irish Lions in South Africa

A successful coach in his own right, Pivac will undoubtedly want to impose himself and his own ideas on his new team.

But given the achievements and sheer length of Gatland's tenure, his spectre is bound to loom large over Wales for some time.

And for Pivac's first game at the helm, Gatland will be unavoidable - because he will be in charge of the opposition.

Barbarians fixtures tend to be carnivalesque in the way they subvert the modern game's dominance of structure, the invitational team committing instead to a kind of entertaining chaos, harking back to the carefree rugby of the amateur era.

That approach is at odds with the pragmatic style which brought Gatland his success with Wales, but he is looking forward to turning the tables, both in terms of his own playing ethos as Barbarians head coach and by trying to plot Wales' downfall for once.

"I'm really looking forward to that game," he said.

"From my point of view, it's just about being able to go out there and throw a couple of moves that they wouldn't have expected.

"We want to be positive in the way that both teams play. The Barbarians will throw the ball around.

"Hopefully it gives me a chance to say thank you to the Welsh public and the fans, my sincere thanks in terms of how much I've enjoyed the last 12 years."

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