Wayne Pivac has told new Wales recruits Johnny McNicholl and Willis Halaholo they will have to be performing "much better" than home-grown players to make his Test team.

His selection of the New Zealanders in his first squad after succeeding Warren Gatland as Wales coach has sparked intense debate with fans split on the thorny issue of foreign imports wearing the red jersey despite having served World Rugby's mandatory residency period for eligibility.

Wales' 2008 and 2005 Six Nations Grand Slam star Gavin Henson also weighed in on the hot topic, tweeting on his official Twitter account: "This is so wrong."

Addressing the eligibility issue in detail, Pivac said: "I look at it in terms of the rules and what we can and can’t do.

"You just have to look at the French or Australian team or anywhere you look. There are a few Fijians out wide.

"There are a few players from different nationalities playing in other teams. The rules allow that."

However, Pivac insisted any 50-50 calls between picking imports like McNicholl and Halaholo and home-bred players would be settled in favour of those from Wales.

"I’ve got a rule of thumb that if we select someone under the residential rules, in the view of the selectors they have to be playing that much better than the local," he explained.

Asked why he had called up the pair, who recently became available for Wales through residency rules, Pivac responded: "They’re exciting attacking players.

New Zealanders Willis Halaholo (left) and Johnny McNicholl have been picked in the Wales squad after completing three-year residency periods

"We want to get to the point where we have more of a varied attack than we do at the moment.

"Evolving the attack will be an ongoing thing. It’s not taking things away. There is a very good kicking strategy in place.

"We want to add strings to our bow so by the 2023 World Cup teams don’t necessarily know what we’re going to do at a given time.

"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.

 

"We don’t know as much about Willis in the northern hemisphere. From what I’ve seen in the games he’s played against the Scarlets sides I’ve coached, he can beat a guy in a phone box.

“He’s got a skill-set not many people have, but we want to see the other side of his game up close and personal in our camp.

"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."

Pivac pointed to the clash with the Gatland-coached Barbarians and said: "It’s not a Test cap game, so it’s a great opportunity to get some questions answered, hence some of the selections.

"We’ve done them with a view of let’s learn as much as we can about the players that will be available for the Six Nations.

"We know the success the team has had, we want to continue that and build on it.

"Warren’s done things a certain way and I understand why he’s done them, the method in his madness is there for all to see, I think.

"We don’t always have the biggest pool of players to pick from, and you’ve got to look at what you believe your strengths are at a given time and play to your strengths.

"Warren’s done that and had some great results, and we’re gonna try and build on the platform he’s left, and he’s left a pretty good platform to launch from.

 

"The expectation is we’ll perform straight away, so that’s the challenge for us, seeing how quickly we get up to speed."