From one New Zealand coach to another, Wayne Pivac will at least nestle in Warren Gatland's seat with eyes wide open next year.

More Welsh locals recognise Gatland and national football manager Ryan Giggs than the First Minister.

Like many test rugby posts, coaching Wales is thankless. Throughout his 12 years at the helm, Gatland has established 1970s level success and yet public and pundit critics are never in short supply.

Pivac's imminent promotion over Dave Rennie and Chris Boyd comes after four largely successful years with the Llanelli-based Scarlets, although this last bumpy, injury-ravaged season is not going to plan.


Having also endured a baptism of fire on arrival at Scarlets, one which led to several senior players being axed, Pivac has no ambiguity about demands and expectations.

"There's a lot of talk around how you're going to handle living in that goldfish bowl. Rugby is the No. 1 sport here, as it is in New Zealand. The country is a lot smaller; everyone is a lot tighter and closer. If we think New Zealand is small at times, it is literally villages here in Wales. There's no hiding places.

"Part and parcel of my role is going to be where I can use an education process of giving information to the public about what we're doing and why. After that, it's just backing it up with performances.

"They are very, very passionate and not frightened to tell you what they think. I've embraced that down in west Wales and made myself part of the community. I've found it very enjoyable."

Enjoyable may not be the best way to describe the schedule Pivac faces when he steps into Gatland's breach after next year's World Cup.

A one-off home match against the Barbarians won't carry much pressure, but that is not true of the Six Nations campaign to follow. And then it is off home for three mid-year tests against the All Blacks in 2020.

Fortunately, given those pending challenges, Pivac has 15 years in the police to draw on. That is, after all, where many of his coaching foundations formed.

"If you can tell someone a member of their family has passed away, you can pretty much do anything," he says.


Joining the ranks as a 19-year-old, Pivac savoured his time on the force. It taught him to deal with conflict, extract information, read body language and assess traits through the principles of stage one psychology.

"You learn so much about people from different walks of life. You learn to communicate with different people, with different learning styles.

"Now when you select a team and you have to sit down with a player and tell them why they're not selected, it doesn't seem as tough as some coaches find it.

"All those things we did in the police, I find myself doing naturally on a daily basis in my rugby job. It's played a massive part in my life."

Warren Gatland has established 1970s success.
Warren Gatland has established 1970s success.

Rugby runs through Pivac's blood. His father, George, played for North Auckland before going on to coach the Takapuna and Rosmini College first XVs.

Pivac, along with siblings Donna and Colin, were dragged down to watch every week.

So when injury forced Pivac's premature playing retirement aged 27, coaching Takapuna was a natural fit. The police supported his ambitions with the view it was good to have their people in the community.

As the game turned professional, Pivac landed his first semi-professional coaching role with Northland, who struggled to emerge from the second division.

Pivac broke that ceiling, leading Northland to promotion with victory over the much-fancied Central Vikings.

Coached by Frank Oliver, the failed Manawatu-Hawke's Bay amalgamation boasted Christian Cullen, Chresten Davis, the late Jarrod Cunningham, Bull Allen, Stephen Bachop and Roger Randle among others.

Northland, in their unbeaten campaign, put 40 points on the Vikings in the round robin, 60 in the final.

"It was a dream season that really got the tastebuds going."

Pivac progressed to Auckland assistant alongside Grant Fox in 1999 but in a precursor of things to come, he was thrust into the head coach role after Sir Graham Henry left to lead Wales.

"I was thrown in the deep end. I remember going to Eden Park as a kid - getting time off school to watch mid-week games with Dad. To be on Eden Park and in charge of the Auckland team was special in itself."

Pivac's first reign with the blue and white hoops proved memorable. He won back-to-back provincial titles, and the Ranfurly Shield in the 2003 season which culminated with him named New Zealand Coach of the Year.

"Winning the Shield off Canterbury in Christchurch was one of the highlights. I always dreamed of playing in Shield rugby, so to lift it up and be part of it is something I will always remember."

Moving to Fiji took Pivac out of his comfort zone. It was equal parts frustrating and rewarding but ultimately ended with regrets.

Over three years, he helped established a semi-professional local competition, the country's first academy and first rugby-specific gym in Lautoka, between Suva and Nadi.

Success came in sevens and XVs and standards improved, reflected by a 25 per cent growth in locals reaching the national team.

But it didn't end well, with Pivac bailing early.

"It was disappointing I didn't see out my fourth year and take them to the World Cup in 2007. Family reasons ... my marriage broke up. But it was an important part of my career to get that taste of international rugby and I've worked hard to get that back at some stage.

"To have this opportunity now, I think Fiji has definitely played a part."

Returning to New Zealand, Pivac immediately filled the void at North Harbour after Sir Gordon Tietjens opted at late notice to pass up the position.

Seven wins from 20 games in two years reflects Pivac's struggles to get Harbour humming.

"Being an ex-North Harbour player and based on the Shore, I jumped at it. To be honest, it was not the right move for me at the time.

"Looking back now, you've got to be in the right frame of mind as a coach. You've got to be focused on delivering what you need to your players and helping create that environment which brings out their best.

"If you're not 100 per cent yourself - and I was going through the family situation at the time - there were a few distractions. I don't think I had my best period as a coach but it taught me a lot as well."

Wayne Pivac knows navigating Wales is not easy. Photo / Getty Images
Wayne Pivac knows navigating Wales is not easy. Photo / Getty Images

Following a year out to recover from neck surgery due to a prolapsed disc, Pivac reverted to the grassroots, taking charge of Pakuranga on Gary Whetton's recommendation that such a route could open the door to Auckland again.

This pathway came to fruition but after two seasons with Auckland - featuring a losing final and semifinal appearance - Scarlets came calling. More than anywhere on his winding coaching road, Pivac needed his police experiences.

A 0-3 start, coupled with player-led revolt, combined for tumultuous beginnings.

"I came over at the same time as Mark Hammett and I think we had slightly different approaches. Mark probably went in with a sledge hammer to the [Cardiff] Blues and he was gone before Christmas, whereas I'm still there and we've won the championship and have succeeded in Europe.

"There needed to be change in the Blues from his perspective and I felt there needed to be some change here."

Over a two-year period, Pivac axed four senior players and formed a management team - Welsh legend Stephen Jones (attack), Byron Hayward (defence), Ioan Cunningham (forwards) - who were on the same page.

Under Pivac, Scarlets celebrate good times with traditional rugby values while appreciating the value of working hard. Central to their success in claiming the 2016-17 Pro12 title - their first silverware for 13 years - and losing the Champions Cup semifinal to eventual European winners Leinster last year, is the devotion to an attacking brand of rugby passed through the generations by Scarlets icons Phil Bennett, Ray Gravell and the Quinnell brothers.

It's a style Pivac intends to carry through to the national team.

"In the professional era it's not quite as easy for attacking sides going back a couple of decades. But it is getting back to backing yourself a lot more; using certain skills to break defences down and we certainly want to do that.

"We know it will be different at international level. As we've seen at our level teams are working us out and bringing a lot of line speed. You saw the Lions do that against the All Blacks so it's a big game of chess.

"You can't just throw the ball around willy-nilly at international level but we will want to create opportunities to move the ball. That's just the way I like playing the game."

Gatland's extended tenure is notable for three Six Nations titles, two grand slams and a 2011 World Cup semifinal defeat to France. But Wales' 39 per cent win record (24/61) against southern hemisphere opposition since 2008 is poor.

"Looking at recent results, you'd have to say for the size of the country; the amount of rugby players, there have been some very good results under Warren. At times they are punching above their weight.

"What I'd like to achieve is to continue strengthening Welsh rugby in the Six Nations but also lift that percentage of victories against southern hemisphere teams, in particular Australia which had eluded Wales for some time. And everyone is trying to close the gap on New Zealand."

As he works through one final, challenging campaign with Scarlets, who sit second in their Pro14 pool but out of European contention already, Pivac is juggling future national duties having this week finalised assistants; Jones and Glasgow Warriors forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys.

Before settling into Gatland's groove, one Henry and Steve Hansen moulded previously, Pivac has one other daunting task: mastering the Welsh anthem.

"All I'll say is if Hadleigh Parkes can get there I'm pretty sure I can. I'll back myself to have it nailed within 12 months."