Wayne Pivac: New Wales head coach picks McNicholl and Halaholo in first squad

Johnny McNicholl
Johnny McNicholl has been with the Scarlets for three years
Wales v Barbarians
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Date: Sat, 30 November Kick-off: 14:30 GMT
Coverage: Full commentary on BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru, the BBC Sport website and app.

Wales coach Wayne Pivac has named New Zealand-born backs Johnny McNicholl and Willis Halaholo in his first squad.

The pair qualified on residency to play for Wales in November and are among five uncapped players alongside Taine Basham, Shane Lewis-Hughes and Ashton Hewitt.

Injured captain Alun Wyn Jones is omitted for the uncapped match against Barbarians in Cardiff on 30 November.

The touring team will be coached by Pivac's predecessor Warren Gatland.

The 35-man Wales squad includes 22 players who featured at the World Cup in Japan.

However, England-based players Dan Biggar and Rhys Carre are not available because the game falls outside the designated Test window.

Pivac is hoping McNicholl and Haloholo, both 29, will impress having worked the pair both in the past.

"I personally know a lot about Johnny and I had Willis in the Auckland age groups when I was coaching there, so I know his background," said Pivac.

"They're both exciting attacking players. It's an opportunity for us to get Willis in for a week and have a look at him.

"We spoke to him earlier in the season about parts of his game we like and parts we think he can work on.

"It will be an interesting week to see how some players step up into a new environment and he's one of those players."

Pivac says he has no qualms about picking players who have just become eligible if he feels they deserve their opportunity after revealing he had spoken to Ospreys centre Scott Williams about his omission.

"I look at it in terms of the rules and what we can and can't do," said Pivac.

"You just have to look at a few players from different nationalities playing in other teams.

"The rules allow that. I've got a rule of thumb if we select someone under the residential rules that they have to be playing that much better than the local."

Back-row duo Basham and Lewis-Hughes were surprise inclusions.

"They're exciting young talents and well known to the age grade coaches," said Pivac.

"They've had a successful time in the development programme we have here and both are playing senior rugby for their regions and have caught the eye."

Willis Halaholo
Willis Halaholo joined Cardiff Blues from Super Rugby's Hurricanes in 2016

Captain Jones is in the middle of a six-week lay-off with a groin injury with Pivac yet to decide on his skipper for the Barbarians fixture.

Pivac has underlined the importance of Jones to his plans. The lock is on course to become world rugby's most-capped player next year, overtaking the 148 Test mark of New Zealand World Cup-winning skipper Richie McCaw that he currently stands just five games behind.

"Alun Wyn was always going to get a six-week recovery period," said Pivac.

"We are thinking of 2023 (the World Cup) and whether certain people will get there, but at the moment the leadership of Alun Wyn is important to us.

"He will be fine in another few weeks, and he's very much in my plans.

"I've had several conversations with Alun Wyn, pre and post-World Cup, and he is a big part of our plans going forward at this stage."

Jonathan Davies, George North, Rhys Patchell, Josh Navidi, Cory Hill, Tomas Francis, Liam Williams, James Davies and Gareth Anscombe are all injured.

Patchell and Anscombe's absences resulted in a recall for Dragons' Sam Davies, who along with Jarrod Evans is one of two specialist fly-halves in the squad.

There are also recalls for Scarlets props Rob Evans and Samson Lee as well as Dragons prop Leon Brown, who did not make Gatland's World Cup squad.

Blues lock Seb Davies also returns having been omitted from Wales' World Cup training camps.

Wales squad

Forwards:

Elliot Dee (Dragons), Ryan Elias (Scarlets), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Rob Evans (Scarlets), Wyn Jones (Scarlets), Nicky Smith (Ospreys), Leon Brown (Dragons), Samson Lee (Scarlets), Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Blues), Jake Ball (Scarlets), Adam Beard (Ospreys), Bradley Davies (Ospreys), Seb Davies (Cardiff Blues), Taine Basham (Dragons), Ollie Griffiths (Dragons), Shane Lewis-Hughes (Cardiff Blues), Ross Moriarty (Dragons), Aaron Shingler (Scarlets), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Aaron Wainwright (Dragons).

Backs:

Aled Davies (Ospreys), Gareth Davies (Scarlets), Tomos Williams (Cardiff Blues), Sam Davies (Dragons), Jarrod Evans (Cardiff Blues), Willis Halaholo (Cardiff Blues), Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets), Owen Watkin (Ospreys), Owen Lane (Cardiff Blues), Josh Adams (Cardiff Blues), Steff Evans (Scarlets), Ashton Hewitt (Dragons), Johnny McNicholl (Scarlets), Hallam Amos (Cardiff Blues), Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets).

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