Wayne Pivac celebrated his first game as coach of Wales with a 43-33 win over the Barbarians as Warren Gatland’s return to Cardiff ended in defeat this morning.
Wales scored six tries but had to withstand a second-half fightback by the Barbarians, who trailed 33-7.
Gatland was given a hero’s welcome after a 12-year reign — the longest by any Wales coach — in which he led the team from the doldrums to No. 1 in the world rankings and a second Rugby World Cup semifinal last month.
But Pivac’s determination to put his stamp on Wales produced some interesting selections: Flyhalf Jarrod Evans, who missed out on Rugby World Cup selection, made his second appearance for Wales, and uncapped New Zealand-born wing Johnny McNicholl played after qualifying on residency.
The friendly nature of the contest was upset by a tip tackle on Wales wing Josh Adams and a bustup off the ball which forced referee Nigel Owens to lay down the law. That incident sparked Wales into life and scrumhalf Tomos Williams’ quick tap penalty five minutes before halftime freed Evans to send McNicholl over.
Barbarians flanker Marco Van Staden was sent to the sinbin for killing the ball, and Wales took advantage as hooker Ken Owens profited from an overthrown lineout for a 19-7 interval lead.
Van Staden was still off the field when Owens claimed his second try to earn a hug from his opposite number Rory Best, the former Ireland captain who was playing his final game of professional rugby.
The floodgates opened. Adams scored his second try, and Gareth Davies notched Wales’ sixth.
The Barbarians came back with tries by Shaun Stevenson, Craig Millar and Peter Samu to add to the opener by Josh Strauss to get within seven of Wales. But a late Leigh Halfpenny penalty, taking his tally to 13 points, ensured Wales won.