The Six Nations returns for round three this weekend, and for Wales it represents an interesting point in the early stages of the Wayne Pivac era.
Of course last time out the men in red fell to a disappointing defeat away at Ireland to end hopes of a second Grand Slam, and there was plenty of criticism after the game over the quality of performance, with Wales second best in pretty much every area on the field.
There was some overreaction in parts, but these sort of results will come early in the reign of a head coach at international level, and especially away at Ireland where we’ve not had so much success over the years, and against an Irish side as good as they were the weekend before last.
The reason this weekend’s game is an interesting point early in Pivac and co’s tenure is two-fold; it will give an indication of exactly where this team and coaches are in their transition, and how they deal with the adversity of a disappointing result, especially in the Six Nations where one defeat can derail an entire campaign.
France arrive as one of two sides still unbeaten in the 2020 version of the tournament, and are probably the favourites to lift the Six Nations trophy and win the Grand Slam at this point in time.
They have played some excellent rugby and have some of the in-form players in the tournament in their ranks, as well as arguably the best defence coach in the world in Shaun Edwards, formerly of this parish of course.
However, they have also had spells in their games against England and Italy where they were noticeably the second best team on the field and, crucially, they have not yet been tested outside of Paris in a new era of their own.
From Wales’ point of view having the Principality Stadium as a fortress is absolutely key. We haven’t lost a Six Nations game at home for three years and we haven’t lost to France in Cardiff for a decade. These are the foundations upon which successful sides are built.
Bouncing back from defeats is also a key attribute to have, and how Pivac motivates and inspires his side to get back to winning ways, as well as how he fixes the tactical errors made in Dublin, will provide an insight into how his time as head coach will go.
The step up from the Scarlets to Wales is a big one, but learning quickly on the job is what is going to take him far, as the general Welsh rugby public won’t cut him slack for too long. They’re a largely fickle bunch with little time for transition.
Back to Pivac though and that transition has to be carefully managed. Evolving the attacking game into a more expansive one is great for those of us keen to watch some attractive rugby, but international rugby requires Wales to retain that little bit of niggle. That edge that makes them hard to beat.
If that balance can be struck then this weekend will be a big step forward for the new coaching regime, but two losses in a row before a trip to Twickenham is a tough place to be.
It still won’t be time to panic, but Saturday is a big one.