Wayne Pivac accepts that he has a job “where everybody is watching your every move” as he looks for his Wales players to bounce back from a demoralising home defeat against Italy.
The Wales head coach’s next assignment could hardly be tougher – a three-Test series away from home against world champions South Africa in July.
Pivac has named a 33-man squad for the tour, including uncapped Leicester flanker Tommy Reffell and Cardiff number eight James Ratti, with the Springboks looming barely three months after Wales’ Six Nations campaign ended in disarray.
Italy’s 22-21 victory – their first in Cardiff – saw Wales fall from Six Nations champions last year to a fifth-place finish.
“We’ve had some robust discussions as a coaching group,” Pivac said.
“We let the dust settle a bit because emotions were running pretty high right throughout the country, and rightly so, because that is a result that nobody is proud of.
“The big thing is we had those robust discussions, we will learn as much as we can from the experience, and hopefully it makes us a better side moving forward.
“Certainly, that is the attitude we are taking. What we want to do is turn that frustration, that emotion if you like, into the hard work that is required going to a place like South Africa.”
Asked if the criticism post-Italy personally hurt him, Pivac added: “No, personal criticism doesn’t hurt because it is a job you know where everybody is watching your every move.
“When you take these positions on you know there is a responsibility that goes with it. Certainly, a loss to Italy was something that wasn’t in my thought process, to be honest, without sounding arrogant.
“I believed we were good enough, we had done enough work, and we could have won that game several times over. The fact is we didn’t, so you take what comes with that, and a lot of it is justified.”
Bridgend-born Reffell, a former Wales Under-20s captain, has been rewarded for a succession of outstanding displays during Tigers’ Gallagher Premiership title push this term.
Elsewhere, Ospreys back George North is recalled 14 months after his last Test match appearance because of a serious knee injury, with 150-times-capped lock Alun Wyn Jones also chosen, but experienced Scarlets centre Jonathan Davies, Bristol fly-half Callum Sheedy, Cardiff lock Seb Davies and Ospreys flanker Jac Morgan miss out.
Despite the presence of Jones, who was Wales’ 2019 World Cup skipper and led them to the Six Nations title last year, fly-half Dan Biggar remains as skipper.
Biggar took over leadership duties for this season’s Six Nations while Jones continued his recovery from a long-term shoulder problem.
The 36-year-old lock returned to Wales action against Italy in March, but he has only played four games since undergoing two operations to rectify an injury he suffered seven months ago.
On Jones, Pivac said: “He hasn’t had a lot of rugby. We had a good conversation around the topic.
“Al is a leader by the way he trains and performs on the park. He has done for many, many years, and we don’t expect that to change.
“In terms of Dan, we thought he did a good job. Together, those guys have played many, many Test matches.”
Biggar will lead a squad shorn of several injured players, with that list of absentees including Leigh Halfpenny, Johnny McNicholl, Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric and Aaron Wainwright.
Scarlets fly-half Rhys Patchell and Ospreys flanker Dan Lydiate are among those recalled, but Davies’ omission – he was 2017 British and Irish Lions player of the series in New Zealand – is a major surprise.
“We had a chat around him (Davies) having a big off-season now with next season being a huge one for everybody, obviously,” Pivac added.
“We know pretty much everything we need to know about Jonathan. It’s a case of him getting himself ready to go for a big start to next season to push for the autumn and beyond.”
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