Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones believes under-pressure coach Wayne Pivac’s decision to blood new talent this autumn could yet prove to be a “watershed moment”.
Pivac has overseen just two wins from nine starts this year heading into Wales’ final match of 2020, an Autumn Nations Cup fifth-place play-off against Italy in Llanelli on Saturday.
It’s all a far cry from 2019 when Wales, with Warren Gatland as their coach, won a Six Nations Grand Slam and reached a World Cup semi-final before Pivac’s fellow New Zealander stood down following the global showpiece in Japan.
Pivac is contracted to take Wales through to the 2023 World Cup but there is a break clause in the deal that can kick in after two years.
And Wales’ recent run of results has led some observers to wonder if that might be activated if the team don’t return to consistent winning ways anytime soon.
But Jones believes the emergence in recent weeks of a clutch of fledgling Wales players in the likes of Gloucester win Louis Rees-Zammit, Bristol fly-half Callum Sheedy and Cardiff flankers James Botham and Shane Lewis-Hughes will see Pivac vindicated in the long run.
“You have to give credit to Wayne,” Jones said. “I know I am inside the tent, so I can add that element of bias, but when you strip it back and look at the decisions of the management, he has stuck to his guns and continued to give people opportunities.”
Pivac’s hand has partly been forced by injury in some cases, with veteran lock Jones — who will extend an ongoing world record of international appearances with his 152nd Test this weekend — insisting: “It is good when you see young guys coming in and asking the right questions.
“They have not been found wanting.
“From a spectator and an outsider’s point of view, you only see the 80 minutes. I am fortunate to see how they operate and their application.
“Eight or nine new caps, previously you would not see that in two years. It could be a watershed moment in the way the new regime does kick on.”
The 35-year-old Jones has had plenty of highs and lows as a Wales player, with the Ospreys second row trying to lift the spirits of fans and players alike by saying: “I have the fortune and misfortune of being in similar positions before, and you do come out of it.
“I am comfortable with the fact that if my performances aren’t up to scratch, they will be as scrutinised as anybody else’s.
“Having been involved for a while now, (I realise) certain people need a poke and certain people need an arm around them. There is time for a rocket, but there is time for a level head as well.
“Having someone (Pivac) at the head of the ship, who is continuing with a theme and backing what they say, I am comfortable to follow suit with that and support that.”