Head coach Warren Gatland says he would like to change the negative narrative surrounding Welsh rugby as the national side prepare for the World Cup.
This comes amid the backdrop of the major financial problems of the Welsh game.
“There hasn’t been a lot of positivity about rugby in Wales,” said Gatland.
“We’d like to change the narrative and get as much positivity about there as possible. That has a huge psychological effect on the players in terms of trying to send those messages.”
Gatland returned to Welsh rugby for a second stint in charge ahead of the 2023 Six Nations after his first period between 2008 and 2019 saw Wales claim three Grand Slams and reach two World Cup semi-finals.
The New Zealander has come back to see Wales achieve poor results on the field and endure turmoil off it, even including the national squad threatening to strike before the Six Nations game against England in February. That threat was averted.
The 47-man World Cup training squad have now officially gathered, with Gatland determined to lift the spirits within Welsh rugby as he prepares to take them in camps in Switzerland and Turkey.
“I’ve told the players, as a nation, we should be proud of how we’ve punched above our weight in the past,” said Gatland.
“We’re the smallest nation in terms of tier one nations. If you look at our economy, it’s small compared to Scotland, Ireland and England.
“We don’t have major industries. We don’t have our own bank. When you look at things, we should be proud of what we’ve done in the past, how hard these guys are working and how much success we’ve had.
“There’s a lot of expectation, but we’re punched above our weight in the past.”
Gatland admits that raising the morale would be one of his challenges.
“It’s hard to do that,” said Gatland.
“We’ve had some players we’ve released from the squad and they said they didn’t want that information released.
“You’ve got to respect players on that because some of it is medical or personal. They said we don’t want you to say anything.
“We’ve respected their wishes where, in an ideal scenario, you’d like to be able to communicate all that stuff and keep everyone up to date as much as possible.
“That’s been a reflection of some of the things that have been going on behind the scenes.
“The players don’t want a story written about them that potentially has a negative slant about it. I’d like to communicate things positively, but you have to respect the wishes of the players.
“That’s why I’ve spoken about how we change or create the narrative so we start thinking ‘let’s put the last six months behind us and look forward to what this team is potentially capable of doing’.”
Gatland says Wales struggled in the Six Nations in which he presided over one win and four defeats as his side finished fifth.
“I’ll put my hand up and say the Six Nations wasn’t good enough in terms of our expectations,” said Gatland.
“But I’m excited with this group of players and the work they’re putting in; the atmosphere in the group and how they’ve been working together.
“There’s a good buzz around the squad right now and I’m optimistic.”
Gatland has lost more than 400 caps of experience with the recent loss of senior players, but insists he is not fazed after referencing the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand when Wales reached the semi-finals.
“There was a group of players coming towards the end in 2010, we made those changes and brought those youngsters in,” said Gatland.
“Those players we brought in made an impression and they were brilliant. There’s a group of players now who have come in that are so enthusiastic.
“Some of the older players are looking over their shoulder at the younger ones and know they have to work hard because they face competition. That’s what I want.
“There has been no judgement on the squad, I’m not looking too far ahead. I want to give everyone an equal opportunity to impress over the next few weeks at the camps and in the warm-up games.
“Then we’ll sit down and make a decision on what the squad is going to look like.
“It’s important not to have too many opinions at this stage and to tell the players they have a chance to impress and go and make the most of it. It’s down to them to impress the coaches and make us select them.
“I feel like it’s a healthy environment at the moment. I can’t talk more highly about the players and the work they’ve been putting in. Mentally we are in a good place.”
Gatland believes Wales will benefit from the extra time they have as a squad.
“The great thing about World Cups is you feel like you are going back to a club side and having day-to-day stuff where you have a chance to do the sort of in-depth coaching you don’t normally get,” added Gatland.
“Even with the warm-up games, we might mix and match with the way we want to play against different teams.
“We might be a bit more direct and take a team on physically and then be more expansive. The whole thing is about preparing and getting ready for the World Cup. “
Gatland also admitted he was personally up for the challenge after telling the BBC Scrum V podcast earlier this month he might not have returned to the Wales job had he known the true scale of the problems facing Welsh rugby.
“I’m great and incredibly excited. I know there were some comments the other week from that podcast I did,” added Gatland.
“If people have listened to it they’ll see I’ve made a few jokes about things.
“I’m so happy to be back here, excited about what we can potentially achieve.
“I made the right decision, there is no doubt about that, and I’m just looking forward.”