Rugby union: Wales captain Sam Warburton has called on his team-mates to act like the champions they are when they start their Six Nations title defence against Ireland tomorrow.
Warburton’s side lifted a third grand slam in eight years last time round, but have since endured a demoralising losing run.
They have not beaten another Test-playing country since defeating France to secure last season’s Six Nations title, but that can end tomorrow when the Welsh, currently ranked 9th, take on Ireland, ranked 6th, in their opening match of this year’s competition.
As well as overcoming the form book, Wales must also negotiate a raft of problems, such as a lengthy injury list that currently includes the likes of Ryan Jones, Rhys Priestland, Richard Hibbard, Alun-Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris and Bradley Davies. Head coach Warren Gatland is also absent due to British and Irish Lions commitments.
Nonetheless Warburton (right) remains upbeat. “We were not favourites last year, but as players you ignore it,” he said.
“No-one really knows what is going to happen until the first weekend of rugby. After it, we will have a much better idea of how teams are shaping up.
“We will take massive confidence from going into the game as defending Grand Slam champions. Regardless of what has happened since then, you cannot take that away from us.
“It was a great achievement and a lot of the boys from last year are here and know what it takes. The young players can let the negatives go over their heads and not affect them.
“It is a very confident camp and I am always the optimist.”
Wales completed their preparations at the Millennium Stadium today, with forwards coach Robin McBryde playing down his team’s recent record.
“That stat (seven defeats) has been thrown at us quite a bit, and we are all feeling it” he said. “It is a fine line between failure and success at international level. Unfortunately, we’ve fallen on the wrong side. It is a bit of backs against the wall and everyone knows how important the opening game of a Six Nations is.”
Of the threat of Ireland, defence coach Shaun Edwards added: “Ireland had the best offence in last year’s Six Nations and some of the rugby they played against Argentina in the autumn was breathtaking.”