Alun Wyn Jones says that the Wales players will not shy away from pressure as they head into their Autumn Nations Cup campaign. Wales launch the new tournament against Ireland in Dublin on Friday, arriving at the Aviva Stadium following five successive defeats.
That run included a first loss on home soil to Scotland for 18 years, which was followed by Wales defence coach Byron Hayward departing his job.
Wales head coach Wayne Pivac has overseen just two wins – against Italy and the Barbarians – since he succeeded Warren Gatland 12 months ago.
And if Wales come unstuck at Ireland’s hands, it will be their worst results sequence since 2012.
“As a playing group, we won’t shy away from the pressure,” said Wales captain Jones, who will extend his world Test match appearance record to 150 games.
“I have been in this position a couple of times before, and the margins are finite. We are very clear in the effort and the plan we have to put it right.
“The onus is always on the players. It’s always on us, and I don’t think that changes.
“We’re aware of the external perceptions that people have of us at the minute, but we won’t deviate from getting the performance and improving to get the result.”
Three of Wales’ five reversals were by four points or less, and Jones added: “Sometimes the closer you get, the further away it feels.
“Like I said, we are very clear about the things we need to shore up from the Scotland game to get a result.
“There were times in the Scottish game where we probably tried too hard and gave away penalties. Sometimes it’s easier to take a little two per cent off the effort than add it in.
“We are definitely aware of what we need to shore up, and I would like to think there would be a reaction.”
External suggestions of unrest in the camp and comparing Wales with a sinking ship were roundly dismissed by Pivac, and Jones said: “Unrest is something that can be quite provocative to those that are outside the camp.
“It’s still a job of work for us. We are focused and very clear on what we need to do, and we will stick to that.
“Facing the Irish teams I have in the past, particularly with crowds, it (Dublin) is always a difficult but enjoyable place to come and play.
“They’ve had a lot of domestic success, and that reflects when we come and play Ireland out here. It’s an opportunity, and one for us to get our teeth into.”
Despite Wales’ miserable display against Scotland, Pivac has made just one change, with flanker Justin Tipuric returning after missing that match because of tonsillitis.
On the bench, Bristol fly-half Callum Sheedy is set for his international debut, while wing George North will become the youngest player in rugby union history – 28 years, 214 days – to reach 100 Test match appearances (97 for Wales, three for the British and Irish Lions) if he goes on.
Friday is 10 years to the day since North first appeared for Wales, when he scored two tries in a 29-25 home defeat against South Africa.
Jones added: “It’s a pretty special feat in the game that is rugby union. Hopefully, he will get on and do that honour proud with a good performance.”
At the other end of the Test match experience scale, Ireland newcomer James Lowe makes an eagerly-awaited international debut on Friday.
The New Zealand-born wing, who qualifies for Ireland on residency, has a spectacular strike-rate of 33 tries in 49 games since he joined Leinster three years ago.
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