Conjecture. Gossip. Conspiracy theories. All pastimes of passionate supporters ‘shooting the breeze’. We all know someone who knows someone and while away our hours second guessing, predicting teams and tactics. There’s never a dull moment for a Scarlets fan. It is an action packed roller coaster jolting wildly from ecstasy to despair, which is partly what makes it all so much infuriating, frustrating fun. A veritable test of character.
The game against Glasgow last week was frustrating. Leading at the interval after a superb Liam try, we wilted in the second half. Hampered by the howling wind we were unable to impose ourselves physically, or play in the correct areas of the field. We badly missed Samson, in the tight and loose, something which needs to be addressed before next season with him likely to follow in the footsteps of Rhodri in signing a dual contract. We also lacked gain-line power and, most crucially, appeared to lack the self belief necessary to grind out a result.
It is important to remember that Glasgow are a quality side. Most sides will go there this year and get beaten. We were not atrocious on Friday evening. But we were not good either. Hugely successful American basketball coach John Wooden lived by the motto, ‘winning takes talent. To repeat it takes character.’ Pivac’s appeal for leaders prior to the Ospreys game and his recruitment of Auckland captain Hadleigh Parkes suggests that he feels we lack character. New Zealanders, by nature, do not.
There was much to consider this week, not least the statement from Pivac that he is excited at the prospect of Jordan Williams as a future 10 for the region. To quote Pivac’s Evening Post interview, he said, “Jordan has got an immense amount of talent, we know that. We have asked him to go away and work on the other parts of his game when he doesn’t have the ball — workrate off the ball, communication in the back three and defence.
“He knows his work-ons and he is working very hard at it and in the last couple of weeks he has shown some good form, hence we haven’t hesitated when the opportunities have arisen to put him back in the 23 and he is back in there this weekend. In the next few weeks he will get a few games at 10 at the lower level, LV level. I am excited about the prospect of Jordan Williams playing 10 and obviously we have Steve Shingler.”
This statement raises a number of intriguing questions, not least, if this was the plan, why has he been playing at Full Back all season? I was Y Parc for the Brigend game over Christmas. Starting the game at Full Back, Jordan was his usual exuberant, attacking self, showcasing some delightful skills. Indeed, the game appears all too easy for him. He was sublimely creative and his goal kicking was exemplary. However, his attitude to defence didn’t appear to have been transformed, particularly during one casual corner flag where a Raven was allowed to glide unhindered to the line. Defence reflects attitude and Jordan’s attitude to defence did not appear reborn, so why the sudden promotion to being Rhys’ possible replacement for next season? Why the change of heart?
In a matter of months he has gone from shunned and isolated to being, potentially, trusted implicitly as the team’s lynchpin. In the same interview, Wayne also stated that, “We always look within first, no matter what the position is. We have a very good development system and good people scouring the country looking. To bring someone from outside we have to believe they are going to be significantly better or offer more than the players here.” No argument there and I’d always rather one of our own over an ageing, demotivated journeyman, here to pick up his pension. Our academy must be the envy of Europe and I dread to think where we would be without its prolific success.
However, I wonder if funds are limited and Wayne’s statement was prompted by austerity and the desire to prepare supporters for a lack of stellar arrivals as well as to provide Jordan with the motivation and incentive to kick on and succeed? Former All Black Glenn Taylor is quoted as saying that Pivac has, “good man-management skills” and understands what “makes players tick.”
In the book Legacy by James Kerr, former All Blacks and current Chiefs coach Wayne Smith says, ‘Talent is irrelevant. We carefully picked the players. We picked high work rate, strong body movers, guys that were unselfish.” This short quote accurately defines the reasons that the All Blacks are the best side in the world and helps us understand what Pivac demands of his players and his team. He picks on character and the team always comes first. Ability is nothing without attitude. Pivac’s former team manager Derek Sampson states that, “He has always based a lot on attitude rather than skills. Questions like: ‘how is he as a bloke?’, ‘do I think he can do the job?’ and ‘could I rely on him if we’re six points down with five minutes to go in a crucial match?’ are to the fore.”
Pivac clearly has issues with Jordan’s attitude and not his size. He has continually opted for Harry Robinson, a player of smaller stature and considerably less ability ahead of Jordan, who has remained an outcast since the RDS debacle of early September where, admittedly, his defensive positioning was woeful. Attitude in Kiwi rugby is of the utmost importance. Opulently talented mavericks are shunned in favour of hard working team men. The team comes first. Those who do not conform are shunned and marginalised.
Jordan’s future as a Scarlet will not be defined by his ability. It will be defined by his character. How much does he want it? Indeed, a lot of the current squad are being judged on the merits of character. Good character is what Wayne wants. The continuing inability to win on the road suggests that character is a limited commodity. 9 league games to go, a growing casualty list and the 6 Nations are likely to test the character of all Scarlets to the limits. A resurgent Leicester at Welford Road is next. We will need character in abundance there if we are to avoid a chastening experience.