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The Wayne Pivac way: How Kiwi coach transformed the Scarlets

Pivac led Scarlets to the PRO12 title last season. Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile via Getty Images

There were moments early on in Wayne Pivac's time at the Scarlets when he wondered if he had made the right choice in leaving behind his Auckland world to head to west Wales. "There were some players that wanted me out," Pivac remembers. But a life on the rugby field and 15 years in the police force had taught him to trust instincts and communication.

"I said to myself 'hang on, there's a job to be done here'," Pivac tells ESPN. "We knew we had to ruffle some feathers, manage expectations, a few people had to move on and you've seen the results."

The Guinness PRO12 trophy sits proudly in Parc Y Scarlets telling the story of last season's remarkable campaign; Pivac now has a new contract to his name, despite overtures from back in New Zealand and elsewhere trying to tempt away one of the highest-rated coaches in world rugby.

But he is only getting started. "Everything's about timing and enjoyment," Pivac says. The passion and thirst for knowledge is ever-present. "I'm halfway through a project and at the moment I'm still listening and learning."

The Wales national team has long been a home from home for New Zealand coaches with Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and now Warren Gatland all holding the top job. But Pivac is a little different. Apart from Mark Hammett's unsuccessful spell at the Cardiff Blues, he is the only other New Zealander to coach a region and Welsh rugby is reaping the benefits of his coaching philosophy.

It is centred on communication and inclusivity. "It's not my way or the highway but the players do know who the boss is," Pivac says. There is an open-door policy. Players are encouraged to play an active role in feedback -- "they enjoy a laugh but when we flick the switch, it's time to work." His management staff are there to steer and inspire. "I think we have the balance right," he says.

That word 'culture' can be sport's greatest albatross. Teams can be made or destroyed by it; a run of poor results can be hidden under the umbrella of 'building a culture' which eventually unravels as mere flights of panic. But when Pivac talks about the culture he has ingrained in the Scarlets, you listen. The title is evidence enough.

For him it all heads back to his time under ex-United States and Bristol coach Peter Thorburn at North Harbour. He got them playing an expansive game, where the forwards had to have the handling capabilities of backs. He also paid close attention to the work of Laurie Mains and John Hart, taking the good bits from their styles and adapting other aspects which did not sit right with him.

Herein lies part of the background to the on-field style in Llanelli and Pivac's voice gets quicker as he remembers one try which was the perfect manifestation of his Scarlets credo.

"We spent a lot of time over a three-year period getting props and second-rows to be able to catch and pass under pressure and you're seeing that now," Pivac says. "Against Munster we scored a try from inside our 22 where it went through three forwards' hands under pressure with a a wet ball. We went the whole way."

It was soon after the British & Irish Lions' first Test against New Zealand last summer when Jonathan Davies was walking through the mixed zone. He was asked about the remarkable try the Lions scored, the one Sean O'Brien finished, and whether he had played a role in one as great as that before.

"You don't watch much of the Scarlets, do you?" was his response. Pivac enjoys that tale, and points to the importance of playing and paying tribute to that part of Wales' proud rugby history.

He was intoxicated by the history. He knew the Phil Bennetts and Quinnells were the lifeblood of the turf they played on. They had to do that legacy justice.

The second pillar of his coaching credo and approach to the Scarlets has its roots in his time with the police. "I had 30, 40 or 50 files on the go at any one time... your planning and organisation has to be spot on otherwise you chase your tail, waste your time," Pivac says.

He also learned the importance of communication. As a player he was frustrated when he didn't get feedback on why he was omitted from selection; he would be the first at the coach's door, attempting to find out where he needed to improve.

"You can't communicate the same with everyone. It's taking the time to find out what makes people tick, what they respond to, everyone's got triggers and once you get the players and build those relationships they tend to go the extra mile for you".

"There's an intent there to play a game which is similar to ours and long may that continue."

Pivac on Wales

He also does background checks on potential new signings. "You only need two or three people paddling in the wrong direction and it can take its toll on the squad."

When the Scarlets stood on that podium in the Aviva Stadium, there was layer upon layer of work behind it. But Pivac still wants more. He wants to see them fighting on two fronts, and is constantly looking to build a greater depth as with success comes international recognition.

There are currently 14 Scarlets in the Wales squad for the autumn internationals. Three went on the Lions' tour. The challenge of fulfilling budding Welsh internationals' potential floats into the headache of replacing them when they are unavailable.

Pivac will not be in the Principality Stadium this weekend to see Wales-New Zealand as he will be in Port Elizabeth preparing the Scarlets for Sunday's game against the Southern Kings. But there is pride in seeing his players run out for Wales and also the style of game they are playing.

One day Pivac will return home, but for now, he is an honorary Welshman hoping to see the country take another step forward.

"It will be a big challenge for Wales against the All Blacks. There's an intent there to play a game which is similar to ours and long may that continue," he says. "There's a bit of work to be done and for that to be successful at international level. The All Blacks will be a formidable opponent and what better way to see how the new style of game goes than against them."