Pivac targets players based in England to boost Wales talent pool

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Guinness Six Nations
Dates: 1 February-14 March
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New head coach Wayne Pivac is aiming to expand Wales’ talent pool by selecting more players based in England.

Of the 38 players named in Pivac’s first Six Nations squad on Wednesday, nine play for clubs in England.

There are also five uncapped players, with Pivac benefitting from the fact the likes of Wasps lock Will Rowlands and former England Under-20 centre Nick Tompkins are Welsh qualified.

“We don’t have the biggest pool to select from,” said Pivac.

“Looking within the rules, we think we’ve come up with a reasonably balanced team.

“Our hands have been forced by injury in some places. But that’s just an opportunity for other players and to build the player pool.”

The Welsh Rugby Union introduced a selection policy in October 2017 that meant players would not be picked if they had won fewer than 60 caps when opting to move away from Wales.

However, there are exceptions to the rule.

If a player is uncapped when he signs with a club outside Wales, he is still eligible until the end of that contract.

That stipulation allowed Pivac to select players such as Gloucester’s Cardiff-born teenage wing Louis Rees-Zammit in his Six Nations squad.

There are other complications regarding English-based players, such as their availability during different periods in the season.

For example, English clubs are not required to release players for international matches which fall outside World Rugby’s official windows for fixtures.

That could make some players unavailable for Wales matches or training sessions.

“It’s something you’re aware of,” said Pivac.

“But we’ve looked at selecting a squad that can get the job done week to week but with an eye to 2023 [World Cup].”

Bringing Rees-Zammit and Tompkins into the fold

Rees-Zammit has burst on to the scene in spectacular fashion with Gloucester this season, scoring nine tries in 12 appearances.

The 18-year-old was named the English Premiership’s player of the month for December, and England head coach Eddie Jones was reportedly thinking of trying to persuade the wing to switch international allegiance.

But Rees-Zammit has been unequivocal in his desire to play for the country of his birth, on one occasion replying simply with “Wales” to dismiss a suggestion from former Manchester United footballer Paul Scholes that an England debut was not “far off now”.

“He’s Welsh through and through,” said Pivac.

“Having spoken to him, he’s over the moon. He loves playing rugby. It’s not about contracts, he just wants to play the game.

“At 18, we need to get him in and learn as much as we can. But what we’ve seen, he’s going to be a very good player moving forward.”

While Rees-Zammit has always been committed to Wales, Pivac had to do a little more work to bring English-born players such as Tompkins and Rowlands into the fold.

Saracens centre Tompkins qualifies because of a Welsh grandmother, while Rowlands’ father is Welsh.

Pivac tried to sign Wasps second row Rowlands when he was in charge of Scarlets, where he also came across former England Under-20 centre Tompkins.

“I took notice when he carved the Scarlets up in the Champions Cup when he was about 20,” the New Zealander added.

“I found out he was eligible afterwards. I’ve been watching his career ever since to be quite honest.

“He’s gone very well. We’ve had a lot of contact with him in recent times.

“He’s a quality player, he’s young but with good experience. We think he’s ready for this level of the game.

“He’s always known he’s been able to go either way [select Wales or England]. He’s been living in England and gone through the age-groups.

“But in terms of committing to a national team, he’s made that commitment and we’re very pleased.”

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