Gareth Thomas feels enforced break came at good time for Wales and Wayne Pivac

Gareth Thomas has teamed up with ViiV Healthcare to start a Tackle HIV campaign.

By Press Association Published: 24 June 2020 - 5.00am

UK

Rugby Union

Wales

Former Wales star Gareth Thomas believes new head coach Wayne Pivac could benefit from the lengthy enforced break from rugby due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Six Nations in March were halted before the tournament could conclude with the effects of Covid-19 forcing countries to go into lockdown.

Wales, under the stewardship of Pivac following Warren Gatland’s decision to step down after the 2019 World Cup, won their opener against Italy before subsequently losing to Ireland, France and England.

It was a far from ideal start for former Scarlets head coach Pivac, but it will be a distant memory when rugby can return later in the year.

Thomas, who launched the Tackle HIV campaign with ViiV Healthcare to improve public understanding of HIV and break the stigma around it, said: “This season was always going to be difficult for Wales because it is the post-Warren Gatland era.

“He is the most successful coach to ever coach Wales so it was always going to be an added pressure and an added sense of expectancy for the players.

“They have been in games, they have been in it until the very end and showed great character, and there have been times where under Gatland things would have gone their way like 50/50s, but the 50/50s for Pivac weren’t going their way.

“But they played a brand of rugby and a style people were starting to enjoy and were excited about and then all of a sudden coronavirus came along and everything stopped.

Wayne Pivac, right, lost three of his first four games in charge of Wales
Wayne Pivac, right, lost three of his first four games in charge of Wales (Adam Davy/PA)

“Getting back to rugby for Wales, I think this could maybe be a welcome break because all of a sudden people will stop saying this is post-Warren Gatland.

“Gats is back in New Zealand and coaching the Chiefs so suddenly the focus and the energy can be towards not this team’s era under Gatland, but to be fully focused on the now and what Pivac can bring to the team.”

Thomas, who was the most capped Welsh rugby union player until he was overtaken by Stephen Jones in September 2011, reflected on the elephant in the room for his country while the Six Nations were ongoing.

It could be November the next time the Principality Stadium hosts international rugby, with the Autumn fixtures against Fiji, New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa still pencilled in.

He added: “Every Six Nations game in the build-up, the post-match analysis and the days before and after, everybody was still putting Warren Gatland’s name in the articles and as a player, you want to focus on the now.

“When people drag up the past it’s really difficult and as a coach, that must have been really difficult for Pivac, but they dealt with it well and more importantly moving on and having this break, people’s focus would have shifted.

“People’s memory will be about what we’ve just come through, not what great things happened in rugby previously so they (the coaching team) can fully focus on re-energising and putting spurts back into the Welsh nation.”

While football and cricket have returned, rugby remains off the table until August at the earliest.

And although Thomas knows what bringing the sport back would do for the public, he is aware safety remains the priority.

Gareth Thomas has started a new Tackle HIV campaign alongside ViiV Healthcare
Gareth Thomas has started a new Tackle HIV campaign alongside ViiV Healthcare (James Robinson/Beat Media Group)

“When you talk about contact sport, there is no more of a contact sport than rugby,” he added.

“The reality for me is that you don’t bring it back when people are at risk and you don’t bring it back when you have the possibility of risking a player or risking a family of a player. You have to be certain when you bring it back.

“We all still have to be really patient, but as we are starting to come out of lockdown people are expecting more and more quicker than it is available to them.

“Sport is a lifeline for so many of us. To support a team, the joy it gives you and the sorrow it gives you. It is a feeling of being alive and people want that feeling of being alive again.”

Tackle HIV, a new campaign led by Gareth Thomas in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and the Terrence Higgins Trust, aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. For more information visit www.tacklehiv.org and follow @tacklehiv