Wales ended 2020 with a 38-18 win over Italy in their last Autumn Nations Cup match.
Here’s every word Wales boss Wayne Pivac had to say after his side’s third win from 10 games this calendar year.
Question: What were the pros and cons of that performance?
Wayne Pivac : It wasn’t the 80 minute performance we were after but we are heading in the right direction.
We asked some questions of players and got some answers so that’s what we wanted to get out of the game as well as a good result.
We were happy with the 38 points but not conceding 18. We conceded too many penalties in the second quarter of the game, leading into half time, which allowed them back into the game.
Going down to 14 men certainly wasn’t in the script.
I thought once we got our composure back, and got back to 15, that we finished the game quite strongly.
From a defensive point of view, from that point on, we were very hungry and we turned a couple of balls over which is where we want to be going forward.
Q: You owed a bit to the old guard in the back-row, didn’t you?
WP: I thought Toby Faletau was outstanding today. We shifted him from playing in the 15 metre channel into the middle of the park, where he can get his hands on the ball a little bit more and use his footwork.
He did that exceptionally well, making line breaks and setting a try up as well. He had a strong game and Justin Tipuric back from his head knock went well along with Taulupe.
Q: You picked up some injuries to Alun Wyn Jones and Liam Williams, what is the situation there?
WP: It’s a high ankle sprain for Liam and Alun Wyn was a knee, a medial ligament.
We’ll get both of those scanned and we’ll know more next week.
Q: Looking back on the campaign, how much more do you know about your resources compared to when you started?
WP: I think there have been 11 debutants since the start of the Six Nations. That’s a huge number. We’ve learnt a lot about those players and they’ve learnt a lot.
I spoke to Ioan Lloyd in the changing room and he’s learned a hell of a lot from that game compared to the Georgia game.
He was on the field for a lot longer and you can’t buy those things. You’ve got to get out there, play these games and learn from them.
He’ll be better for that, as will others who’ve had an opportunity.
Q: Would you have wanted to have the pecking order nailed down in more positions than you have at the moment?
WP: I think behind the scenes we have it quite well nailed down and today the likes of Nicky Smith had a go.
I thought he played well and took his opportunity well, as did Sam Parry. I think we are building some depth quite nicely.
What we’ve got to do now is settle the squad for Six Nations and get some combinations and look to be more consistent in what we do with the selections and performances, which should come as a result of a more settled selection.
We decided to go down this way once the World Cup rankings were settled.
Q: Callum Sheedy made some errors in the first half but appeared to settle, were you pleased with the way he bounced back?
WP: I was very pleased and you can say that about the team. The first 20 minutes came comfortably for them, going 14-0 up.
The feeling in the changing room was that we just mentally relaxed a little bit. We thought it was going to be a bit of a romp.
We had to re-address things at half-time and we were down to 14 men. So it was a matter of getting through that seven and a half minutes after half time.
It was about rolling our sleeves up. I think the speed at the breakdown was a lot better in that last half hour and we looked a lot like what I want to see moving forward.
Q: Is it fair to say that moments of individual brilliance – from Tipuric and Faletau – are what made the difference for you?
WP: I think it was a little bit more than that. We had a bit more ball, built a few more phases.
It was a step in the right direction and those two players that you mentioned played very very well.
We need our British Lions to stand up and play like that. Last week we had five of them missing, this week those two were there and played very well.
Q: When you’ve made so many changes in your selection this autumn, should we have expected inconsistent performances?
WP: What we’re looking at is the work that they’re doing behind the scenes as well, at training.
We’re running certain combinations and learning a lot there. It is difficult when you make so many changes but that is what we were prepared to sacrifice.
The odd performance is probably not what the public would like or what we would like, ultimately, and we were hoping to be a little bit more consistent.
I’ve got to take that on the chin and say that, with the learnings we have had, it has had an impact on the performances.
But come the Six Nations, we’ll be putting together a squad that we think can go out and win the games that are put in front of us.
We’ll certainly be trying to do that and we’ll be going with a more consistent selection.
Q: At 14-0 up, you were in control – what did you make of the way Italy came back?
WP: Going into half time, there was only a point in it and they’d got right back into the game.
I think there were multiple errors on our part that got them back into the game. The lineout malfunctioned through to half time and there were a number of penalties at the breakdown.
That continued in the early part of the second half but once we tidied that up, we were a lot more consistent and finished the game strongly.
Certainly, we did let them into the game and we have to look at that.
As the players said at half time, it was probably a mental slip, taking it too lightly.
Q: Will it benefit your younger players, coming through that game after a scare like that?
WP: Definitely. If you looked at the result we had in the Six Nations against Italy, we scored 42 points and 38 tonight. Obviously we let a few in at the other end.
With the side that we had and the limited training time that particular group had, I think there are more positives than negatives.
We’ll take that away now, go and look at the squad for the Six Nations, factoring in all the learnings that we’ve got from this.
The fact that all the players have had opportunities, now we’ll sit down and do a ranking by position and hopefully we’ll be in a better place in terms of our depth than we were a couple of months ago.
Q: How did you think George North went at 13?
WP : It was a positive. He did more good than things that he wouldn’t be that happy with.
All in all it was a worthwhile selection. Going forward, with George working hard at his game, he should be able to offer us more than just being a winger at this level of the game.
He will be a winger that can play at centre going forward.
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Q: How much do you need to improve going into the Six Nations and does this squad have that in them?
WP : If we go pre-lockdown, you would say that we’re not too far off in the French game at home and the game with England.
We selected a different type of squad for this autumn series, which we thrashed and discussed quite a bit.
Combining the two squads and our learnings, we’d like to think we’d have a good crack at it, like all the other teams, no doubt.
Q: When Italy went 18-17 ahead, were you worried and tearing your hair out?
WP: We were obviously a little bit concerned with 14 men down at the time.
We felt that if we could just get some ball and some multiple phases going then we would hurt them.
That’s how it turned out.
Q: Taulupe Faletau has struggled with injuries and form for about 18 months – do you feel like you’ve got him back now?
WP: Yeah and not only Taulupe but the majority of the squad, when we did the fitness testing in week one, we were well behind the eight ball.
They didn’t come out of club rugby too well, to be honest.
So we’ve just talked about that now and the messaging going back will be hopefully the boys will be doing the necessary work so that they come into the Six Nations where we’ve finished off now in terms of fitness levels.
We finished that game very strongly. We certainly weren’t able to do that at the start of the competition.
Taulupe is one of many guys that have benefited from the work he has done over the last eight weeks.
You’ve got to say that he’s back to near his best, so that’s pleasing for us going forward.
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