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A closer look at Wales' journey to Six Nations glory

A closer look at Wales' journey to Six Nations glory
© Reuters
Wales are back at the summit of European rugby.

Wales have conquered European rugby for a second time in three seasons with their Guinness Six Nations title and Triple Crown triumphs.

It represents early success during his reign for head coach Wayne Pivac, who has overcome plenty of bumps in the road since taking over in November 2019.

Here, the PA news agency looks at Wales' eventful journey and key moments along the way.

Were Wales expected to be in this position?

No, not at all. Their results last year – Pivac's first at the helm after succeeding Warren Gatland – were poor, with just three victories from 10 Tests, and those wins were against Italy (twice) and Georgia. Pre-Six Nations, they were dismissed by the bookmakers, with a top-three finish widely considered beyond Pivac's men as it appeared the title race would be between England and France, while Ireland looked most likely to challenge from the chasing pack.

Pivac faced a difficult job after Gatland?

Wales Training Session – International Stadium
Former Wales head coach Warren Gatland (Adam Davy/PA)

Yes, it was among the toughest tasks in world rugby. During Gatland's 12 seasons at the helm, Wales enjoyed sustained success, winning four Six Nations titles, three Grand Slams, reaching two World Cup semi-finals and briefly becoming world rugby's number one-ranked team. Gatland's fellow New Zealander Pivac, who led the Scarlets to PRO12 title glory in 2017, had to be his own man and do things his way. Inevitably, that took time, but 16 months into the job, he has delivered spectacularly with Six Nations silverware.

How has Pivac managed to turn things around?

The New Zealander experimented in selection during Wales' Autumn Nations Cup campaign and, while results were not great, Pivac blooded the likes of Louis Rees-Zammit, Callum Sheedy and James Botham at international level. Rees-Zammit and Sheedy, especially, have enjoyed memorable Six Nations campaigns, while Pivac also deserves enormous credit for two big calls – switching George North from wing, where the vast majority of his Test career had unfolded, to centre and appointing former Wales prop Gethin Jenkins as defence coach.

Have newcomers made an impact?

Italy v Wales – Guinness Six Nations – Stadio Olimpico
Willis Halaholo (centre) has been among Wales' impressive newcomers this season (Marco Iacobucci/PA)

Unquestionably. For those who were prepared to listen – and there were not too many – Pivac and his coaching staff emphasised a development aspect to Wales' Autumn Nations Cup fixtures ahead of results. And it had the desired effect, with Rees-Zammit, Sheedy and Botham emerging impressively, while Cardiff Blues centre Willis Halaholo has also proved a major contributor, joining Sheedy in making a significant impact off the replacements' bench as Wales' collection of super-subs proved pivotal to success.

What is the big picture for Wales?

Six Nations title and Triple Crown successes are huge early achievements for Pivac, his coaching staff and players. Pivac, though, has regularly stressed that everything is geared towards the 2023 World Cup in France. The best part of 30 months out from rugby union's global spectacular, there can be little doubt that Wales are firmly on the right track, with trophies in the cabinet, confidence high and momentum well and truly established. A scheduled summer tour of Argentina is next, when Pivac will undoubtedly look to further expand his playing crop, while the British and Irish Lions' summer series against South Africa looks likely to feature several Wales stars.

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Wales head coach Wayne Pivac pictured in October 2020
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Today's Olympic highlights header

Saturday's key events


TRIATHLON
· After silvers in both the men's and women's events, Team GB will be fancied to get on the podium again in the mixed relay (11.30pm-1am)

SWIMMING
· Touted as Michael Phelps's successor, Caeleb Dressel already has two gold medals from these Games and he will be going for a third in the men's 50m butterfly final (2.30am)
· It is Katie Ledecky vs. Ariarne Titmus III in the women's 800m freestyle final, with Ledecky entering as firm favourite (2.46am)
· Great Britain will be heavily fancied to add another gold medal to their swimming haul, having produced by far the fastest qualifying time for the mixed 4x100m medley relay final (3.43am)

ATHLETICS
· Dina Asher-Smith is one of three British women in the 100m semi-finals (3.01am-3.20am), and will hope to challenge for a medal in what is likely to be a star-studded final (1.50pm)
· The inaugural Olympic 4x400m mixed relay event concludes with Great Britain one of the eight finalists going for gold (1.35pm)

RUGBY SEVENS
· Team GB's dreams of an unlikely gold are still alive in the women's event as they face France in their semi-final (3.30am). The winners will face either New Zealand or Fiji in the gold medal match later in the day (10am)

SAILING
· Gold medals are up for grabs in the windsurfer - RS:X finals. Emma Wilson participates for Team GB in the women's final (6.33am), while Tom Squires is in action in the men's (7.33am)

TENNIS
· Following his shock semi-final defeat, ending his hopes of a Golden Slam in 2021, Novak Djokovic battles for bronze against Pablo Carreno Busta (7am)
· The women's singles event reaches its conclusion with the gold medal match between Belinda Bencic and Marketa Vondrousova

> Today's schedule in full
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