South Africa v Wales: Wayne Pivac aims to end sleepless nights with Springboks win

By Gareth GriffithsBBC Sport Wales
Wales coach Wayne Pivac with his players in training in South Africa
Wales coach Wayne Pivac with his players in training in South Africa
South Africa v Wales - first Test
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria Date: Saturday, 2 July Kick-off: 16:05 BST
Coverage: Radio Wales commentary will be available on Radio Wales Extra, BBC Sport Online and 882 medium wave, Radio Cymru, plus live text and match report on the BBC Sport website

If Wales manage to defy doubters and register a first victory against Springboks in South Africa, head coach Wayne Pivac says he will be able to rest easy for the first time in more than three months.

Pivac admits he has struggled to sleep since the Six Nations home defeat against Italy in mid-March.

So it is not only history at stake for Pivac's Wales over the three-Test series as he reflects on the possibility of upsetting the world champions.

"Well, I'll probably get my first decent night's sleep since the end of the Six Nations, and that's a fact," said Pivac.

"It just doesn't go away. The thing with coaches and players is you're not happy until you get your next win under your belt.

"It's been a long time between drinks and of course there is that memory [of Italy defeat].

"If you finish on winning the Six Nations it's a nice memory, but losing to Italy has been challenging in terms of the pressure you put on yourself, as opposed to the pressure others put on you."

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The Italy loss has seen that pressure piled on Pivac with Wales also written off in many quarters against South Africa before a ball has been kicked.

"It's understandable, you've got to look at where the two teams are coming from," added Pivac.

"They're the world champions, in their own backyard, at altitude. It's a tough place for anyone to go and from the outside looking in, from our last performance, you would write us off.

"The main thing is we haven't written ourselves off. Internally, we've been working very hard.

"It [outside noise] can be as relentless as you want it to be. I know it's there but I don't know who's saying what because I don't look at it. It doesn't help me, it doesn't make me a better coach.

"Some of the players look at it, a lot of them are on social media all the time. It's a fact of the game. I don't mind it at all because it is just people reporting on the facts.

"If you want to argue, play a bit better. That's where we've got to do our arguing and say we are better than that, don't write us off and then bang.

"In a nutshell, we expected the criticism, it was justified but we have to stay focused on our next performance."

That occurs at Pretoria's iconic Loftus Versfeld venue in front of a baying capacity crowd of just under 52,000.

With Covid-19 restrictions having recently been relaxed, it will be the first full rugby stadium of supporters to watch the Springboks in South Africa since Siya Kolisi lifted the World Cup in 2019.

"Everybody knows what we're coming into," said Pivac.

"It's a massive challenge with the world champions in their own back yard and two Tests at altitude.

"We're relishing the opportunity because we haven't had a summer tour away as a group.

"It's going to be a good test for us and will show us exactly where we are.

"They're going to expose some weaknesses and it will give us a lot of things to work on moving forward."

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Pivac says Wales have prepared well for the series having spent a longer preparation period training together at home and in South Africa for the effects of altitude.

"In this first Test, we feel like it's a lot more even," added Pivac.

"Forget we're going into their backyard with 50,000 or whatever it is. We came over a couple of days earlier, which has been beneficial.

"The boys are slowly getting used to what they're feeling in their lungs during training, which is a little bit different to back home.

"A lot of them have had experience in South Africa in terms of what they're going to feel like."

That experience has emanated from the 10 players in this Wales squad that were part of the 2-1 losing British and Irish Lions series last summer and this year's United Rugby Championship (URC).

Wales' professional sides lost all eight games in South Africa during the league campaign and failed to make the play-offs of the tournament.

In contrast, two South African sides competed in the final with Stormers defeating the Bulls.

Pivac does not believe South Africa's professional sides' dominance over the Wales teams will have any bearing on his players.

"What happened with their clubs, this is different," he added.

"They're going to pull on a Welsh jersey, we've got our backs to the wall and that's when we play our best rugby."

Pivac believes this tour represents a fresh start ahead of the 2023 World Cup in France.

"We want to sign the season off with three good performances," said Pivac.

"That's our challenge to the group. If in doing that we can create some history, then we'll be in a great space.

"But then we go on holiday, we come in and it's basically a run-in [to the World Cup].

"World Cups are going to be tough at times and it doesn't get much tougher than South Africa at altitude.

"Players know if they play well on this tour, it's not going to hurt them in terms of World Cup selection."

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