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'He performed above what we expected' - Wales boss Wayne Pivac on Tadhg Beirne's Scarlets stint

The Munster player was coached by Pivac during his time with the Welsh region.

Tadhg Beirne and Wayne Pivac in 2018.
Tadhg Beirne and Wayne Pivac in 2018.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

THEY MAY BE the defending champions, but Wales arrive into this year’s Guinness Six Nations in curious circumstances.

They are down key men – including Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Ken Owens, Taulupe Faletau, Josh Navidi, Dan Lydiate, George North and Leigh Halfpenny – while at club level, the regions look in worrying health, with no Welsh team making it out of the Champions Cup pool stages.

Head coach Wayne Pivac remembers better times, having led the Scarlets to Pro12 success in 2017, making them the last winners before Leinster embarked on their current run of four-in-row.

Pivac had some outstanding players at his disposal that season, including a healthy crop of Wales internationals, but few were as influential as Kildare native Tadhg Beirne, who joined the region in 2016 having found opportunites limited at Leinster.

“He was a great signing (for Scarlets). He performed above what we expected at the time,” says Pivac.

“He’s a very good athlete. He’s a very tough, strong character. What I liked about Tadhg was his enthusiasm and his passion for the game.

“He had a lot of questions. He was always asking why were doing things, challenging us. I thought that was great because he didn’t want to go onto the field without understanding everything that was required of him.

wayne-pivac-and-dan-biggar Wales head coach Wayne Pivac and Dan Biggar during Wednesday's Six Nations launch. Source: GUINNESS Six Nations/INPHO

“Once he had that down, he just went for it.”

Beirne returned to Ireland in 2018 and established himself as a key player for Munster, and finds himself banging on the door of the Ireland starting team heading into this year’s Six Nations, where Andy Farrell’s side welcome Wales to the Aviva Stadium on the opening weekend.

“It was great watching his progress,” Pivac continues. “I was very pleased that he was selected for Ireland but obviously disappointed from a Scarlets point of view (to lose him).

It’s great to see any player you’ve coached at club level to go on and have that honour of playing for their country. I’m really pleased and I’ve followed his progress.”

Ireland and Wales are two teams who know each other well, with plenty of friendly rivalries to keep an eye on at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday week.

Dan Biggar will lead Wales as captain for that fixture, and cites the longevity of Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton as an inspiration.

“Whenever I get asked who has been the most difficult person to play against of the last 10-12 years, there’s no doubt Johnny’s name would be very near the top,” Biggar says.

jonathan-sexton-and-dan-biggar Sexton and Biggar have been teammates with the British and Irish Lions. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Very similar to myself in terms of the drive, the will to win, scrapping for absolutely everything on the field. It’s a testament to him in how he’s managed to handle himself and keep his form going into his mid or late-30s. I don’t think anyone is sure how old he really is! He’s going really strong and I’ve got a huge amount of time for Johnny.

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“There are very few people more deserving of 100 caps in international rugby than Johnny.

It’s always a challenge playing against Johnny. We may not be the best of friends for 80 minutes on the pitch and quite narky at each other. But away from the field, he’s an absolute pleasure to deal with and I have a huge amount of time for him.”

Pivac was keen to play down expectations for his Wales team, noting that the defending champions arrive into the championship facing a number of challenges.

“You’d like to think that, out of the vocal people who expect us to win five from five, everyone out there that follows rugby will know exactly where we’re at. We’re undercooked in terms of preparation with a lack of club games, so that’s not great. A lot of teams are in the same boat, some have had more game-time than others.

“It’s going to be an interesting challenge, particularly being on the road first up against Ireland. Their clubs are in great form, they were in great form in the autumn, so the challenge probably don’t come bigger than that.

“But if you ask a rugby player, if you ask Dan sitting next to me, if you’d want it any other way, [the answer would be] probably not because you want to go out there and play well in the most volatile situation you can be in, if I can put it that way. It’s what brings out the best in champion players and we’d like to think we’ve got a few champion players in our side.

“We’ll go out there and certainly do our best to give the performance that we want, and if we give the performances we want we’ll get the results we want.”

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Ciarán Kennedy

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