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From 1980s policeman to master tactician... The mean streets of Auckland provided the perfect training for Wayne Pivac's new world ahead of his full Welsh debut

Wayne Pivac is a former Auckland policeman who served during the 1980sHe played for the New Zealand services team with Steve Hansen and Mike CronPivac suffered a bad knee injury when playing touch which ended his careerThe current Wales coach was also in charge of Scarlets for five years  

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On the Welsh beat Wayne Pivac, the ex-Auckland copper who once possessed a 'mean left hook' and carried a .38 pistol on the New Zealand streets in the 1980s, is unlikely to feel the pressure his old day-job brought at the Principality Stadium against Italy.

'Once you go into someone's home and have to tell someone their loved one has passed away unexpectedly and then you sit down with a rugby player and have a conversation about the fact they haven't been picked, those sorts of situations I don't find as difficult as other coaches,' PC Pivac, 57, proffered this week on the eve of his full Welsh debut.

From 1980s policeman to master tactician... The mean streets of Auckland provided the perfect training for Wayne Pivac's new world ahead of his full Welsh debut

Wales coach Wayne Pivac used to be an Auckland cop on the New Zealand streets in the 1980s

In his youth Pivac, whose name is Croatian, was every inch the archetypal 80s copper.

'He had the ol' policeman's tache like everyone else!' laughed his good friend Paul Feeney, who now coaches the Kenyan 7s team but has stood on touchlines with Pivac in Takapuna, Auckland, Fiji and – interestingly enough – Cardiff.

'In the 1980s being a policeman was a tough job. It wasn't as politically correct as it is today…!

'You had to think on your feet. That's helped him in his coaching career.'

Between the ages of 19 and 34 Pivac would police the streets of Auckland's North Shore, spending the last few years in the Criminal Investigations Unit.

Shorn of his uniform Pivac took names on the rugby field, as a lock or back-rower for his closest club Takapuna, then North Harbour and the Northland provincial team.

And Pivac was every inch the archetypal 80s copper between the ages of 19 and 34

'He used to play either No 6, 7 or 8 – all three positions – but at North Harbour the coach Peter Thorburn played him at lock,' added Feeney.

'He wasn't the world's biggest second-row had a pretty good left hook on him!'

It was with the New Zealand services team where the fun was to be had. Pivac played with Steve Hansen – whatever happened to him? – and Mike Cron, who became the feared All Blacks 'scrum doctor', was the selector.

The post-match 'court-sessions' in the bar were legendary with Hansen, who went on to coach New Zealand to two World Cup wins, a scrupulous 'judge'.

'Back in the day it was amateur rugby, so you had to escalate the fun side of things!' explains Feeney.

'Those days were a lot of fun!'

Pivac played with former New Zealand coach Steve Hansen with the services team

However, for Pivac they were not to last. The Westlake Boys High School pupil – where cricket umpire Billy Bowden and commercial bungy-jumping inventor AJ Hackett also attended – had his playing career cut short.

At 27 Pivac suffered a bad knee injury when playing touch. A burgeoning tennis and rugby career – where he had shared the field with All Black great Sean Fitzpatrick – was over.

The first cobble on the yellow-brick road to the Welsh job was laid in Takapuna, over the Harbour Bridge north of Auckland.

Pivac grew up there thanks to his father's family. Having eloped from Podgora, on Croatia's Dalmatian coast, Pivac's grandparents were kauri-field 'gum-diggers' in Northland.

Having cleared swamp-land a plot of the countryside was rewarded to them. One of their 10 children – eight boys and two girls – was George, Wayne's father.

George was a prop and coached Takapuna too having moved there from Kataia – further up the North Island's protruding finger. He married Joan, a primary school teacher of Scottish descent and in 1962 they welcomed Wayne.

Fast-forward 30 years and the coach was destined for success. He and Hansen took the Police team in 1992, a title for Takapuna came in 1994, and then three Auckland championships in five years followed for Pivac at North Harbour.

What struck those that know him was not just his excellent tactics or 'out-the-square' selections, but his man-management – clearly coming from serving on the thin blue line.

'You learn in the police to come on soft initially, listen to people, then gradually you can progress that to whatever extent you want,' explained Feeney.

'You end up locking people up.

What struck those that know Pivac were his excellent tactics and man-management skills

'Wayne has a similar attitude in his coaching – take a pretty easy approach, and if you need to bring that to the next stage you can, but you don't start off at the heights.'

Pivac himself credits the police for sharpening his eye.

'The ability the illicit information from people that don't necessarily want to talk to you is a skill in itself,' he explained.

'Reading body language…understanding what people are thinking.'

He did not miss much when it came to talent-spotting either.

'Keven Mealamu was a young flanker in Auckland and Wayne converted him into a hooker – he went on to win 132 caps for the All Blacks,' regaled Feeney.

Soon Graham Henry – whatever happened to him too? – invited Pivac to become his assistant at Auckland in 1998.

Pivac converted Keven Mealamu from a young flanker in Auckland into a great All Black hooker

When Pivac arrived, though, Henry had quickly taken the Wales job; so suddenly the youngster was in charge. It was a theme that would repeat itself in Llanelli years later.

By 2003 he was 'Steinlager Coach of the Year' with three NPC titles in his cupboard.

Then, with Feeney, he coached Fiji for three years – including the Sevens team containing the legendary Waisale Serevi – a job which took him to his future home, the Principality Stadium.

In Wales' 2005 125th anniversary match the Fijians missed a drop-goal and lost 11-10 in the rain.

But the shorter-form team were World Champions. Returning to the Islands – having beaten New Zealand in Hong Kong – Pivac needed all his policeman's nous to negotiate the chaos.

'There were 10,000 people at the airport!' remembers Feeney.

'It was amazing scenes. The next day with our families we bussed down to Suva – it should only be a three-hour trip but it took 16!

Before being involved in Welsh rugby he coached Fiji for three years and their Sevens team

'We went to seven chiefs' villages, would go round corners and there'd be 500 people standing in the road to stop the bus to give you kerosene, cloth and matting as gifts.

'They'd pass them around their heads. Wayne would try and calm the situation down!'

After Pivac's marriage fell apart a couple of years later he returned home. By 2012 he had two teenage sons – Matthew and Bradley – and was back with Auckland, where Hadleigh Parkes was his centre and captain.

'He was my first Auckland Sevens coach, then took me to the XVs side and we had about two seasons together,' explained the Kiwi-born Welsh midfielder.

'He loves certain phrases. The boys get stuck into him for things like '100 per cent, mate'.

'You have to be accountable with him. He is level-headed but a big advocate of celebrating success.

Wales' Hadleigh Parkes was Pivac's centre and captain when he was at Auckland Sevens

'Work hard in the week, then when you put a team to the sword and win you should enjoy it with your mates.

'And if things didn't go well, the next team needs to pay.'

It was in 2013 where both Parkes and Pivac's lives changed drastically. Scarlets coach Simon Easterby flew to New Zealand for a weekend to see Pivac – he wanted him as an assistant on the other side of the world, and Pivac agreed to join.

When he did the next season Easterby was coaching Ireland and Pivac was in charge – it had happened again.

Living barely 10 minutes from Parc y Scarlets, Pivac rapidly integrated into West-walian life and soon brought Parkes over to join him which allowed the centre to play for Wales three years later.

'I had an offer to go to Bayonne instead as a medical joker,' said Parkes.

'But my wife Suzy and I had the opportunity to live and work in Wales. Five years later it's been the best decision of our lives. We owe the people of Wales so much.

'With Wayne we played an attacking brand that everyone bought into. It was exciting.'

It was in 2013 where both Parkes and Pivac's lives changed drastically with the Scarlets

Beer-soaked Sosban Fach sing-songs came as regularly as the victories.

With a swash-buckling style the Scarlets won the Pro12, made the semi-finals of Europe and another league final before Pivac became the chosen one to replace Warren Gatland.

Ioan Cunningham, the only Scarlets coach Pivac has left behind having stepped up to the Wales job, explains how the Kiwi connected with his new people.

'He understood quickly what it meant to be a Scarlet and what the Scarlets meant to the people,' said Cunningham.

'He fed that into the team on a daily basis. There are very passionate people here.

'He understood that people from Pembrokeshire to Carmarthen spent a lot of money following us and made sure the team performed for them.

He understood quickly what it meant to be a Scarlet and what the Scarlets meant to the people

'He would have a beer with the fans and was honest about what he was trying to do with them. Same with the players.'

PC Pivac earned his badges for the international beat.

'The police has helped with his emotional intelligence,' said Cunningham.

'He knows how to push players' buttons. He does not forget things either. We took the mickey out of him because he always remembers a score-line.

'We'd be talking about a game and he'd say 'oh yeah, we won 14-13'.

'We spent a lot of time together, at the pub, playing golf – he's not bad – and drinking coffee. He is a great guy.'

Cowbridge is home now, the Hare and Hounds his local, with new wife Mikaela – a Kiwi he met in Wales – by his side.

It was crucial to Pivac connecting with the people when he was in charge of the Welsh side

A lot has changed in Wayne's World – but he retains the same values drummed into him when he was the Bobby with the tache.

'He's old-fashioned,' noted Feeney.

'Time-keeping is important, attention to detail, don't wear the wrong gear, don't be late.

'He's watching even if you don't think he's watching! He notices things with his ex-policeman's eye.

'You won't get in the team if you're a great talent but don't do the small things.

'But will give you the shirt off his back – if you go to him with a problem he'll treat you like his sons.'

Now Pivac is preparing for more pressure of leading Wales to a potential Six Nations title

What of the pressure of the post? Now the big fish in the Welsh goldfish bowl, Pivac is ready to swim – not sink.

'Remember, I was once a supporter in New Zealand of the All Blacks,' he said recently.

'I grew up in a pretty hostile environment where winning was everything, and in the police I saw the real life result of bad performance. It had a knock-on effect on the community – I dealt with some of that at 3am on a Sunday. It goes with the territory.

'That's part of the excitement of it – you can make a difference to people's lives for a period of time, albeit a couple of days or a week.

'It's not something we'll shy away from.'

Pivac has never cowered from a call of duty.


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