New Wales coach Wayne Pivac has defended the selection of players on residency after naming New Zealand-born Scarlets wing Johnny McNicholl in his first side to take on the Barbarians.
The issue raised its head in dramatic circumstances this week when Willis Halaholo, the New Zealand-born Cardiff Blues centre, responded to criticism on social media over players being picked after qualifying on residency.
Halaholo, who was named in the squad but was ruled out of Saturday’s game in Cardiff after suffering a serious knee injury, posted a tweet hitting back at the “doubters, haters and people that don’t think I belong here”.
Pivac – who will be taking on former Wales coach Warren Gatland in his first game – said: “Selecting a player that comes through the residency route, in our opinion they need to be better than the local boys.
“The man in the street thinks (New Zealand-born Scarlets centre) Hadleigh Parkes is a pretty good bloke, represents the country very well and puts his body on the line every time he takes the field.
“So I don’t think they ask too much more of the individual.
“I think that’s what people want to say when you pull the jersey on, you do it proud.
“You fully buy into everything, this Welsh team’s culture, the culture Warren has created when he selected Hadleigh.
“Certainly going forward, Johnny knows what we expect of him from his time at the Scarlets.”
Christchurch-born McNicholl joined the Scarlets in 2016 and knows Pivac well from their time together at the west Wales region.
McNicholl has been named in a back three that includes Josh Adams and Leigh Halfpenny, while Parkes and Owen Watkin fill the centre roles.
Scrum-half Tomos Williams forms a half-back partnership with his Blues team-mate Jarrod Evans, who is the only non-World Cup squad member to start apart from McNicholl.
“We are looking at players who can fit into the style of game we want to play moving along,” Pivac said.
“The strength of young Jarrod’s game is his running. He’s got other parts of his game that he’s working on.
“Johnny brings a lot of X-factor. He’s got a high work-rate and gets around the park, so it will be interesting to see how he goes in this particular match.
“We are going to be really focused on trying to get as much as we can out of the game and the week so we hit the ground running in Six Nations, a week advanced of where we would have been.
“All the introductions are out of the way, we’re starting to learn more about each other and some of the stuff the coaches are starting to put in their various areas is getting a warm reception. So, so far, so good.”
Every forward in Pivac’s first team played at the World Cup in Japan, and Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric captains the side.
But there is no place for Dragons back-rower Ross Moriarty, who misses out as he is still feeling the effects of a World Cup injury.
“Unfortunately Ross picked up an infection,” Pivac said.
“He got some bad grazing over in Japan on his forehead and he has been pretty run down, with a bad cold and a chest infection.
“So he hasn’t been able to do the training required to be able to out him out there without risking injury, so he is still getting himself 100 per cent right.”