Warren Gatland has urged the pundits to keep writing Wales off as his players prepare for battle with fellow World Cup heavyweights England and Australia.
Wales, despite reaching the World Cup semi-finals in New Zealand four years ago, have been largely billed as Pool A’s third favourites and therefore written off in many quarters as potential quarter-finalists.
Only two teams will make the last-eight from what is widely viewed as the toughest group in World Cup history, and Wales head coach Gatland is happy for his squad to go in as perceived underdogs.
“If you (media) can do your jobs and write us off as much as possible and we can come in there being written off, which seems to be happening at the moment, that’s the best situation for a Wales team to be in,” he said.
“Sometimes those things galvanise us and make us stronger as a unit, so continue to do it.
“I believe this is going to be the closest World Cup. In 2011, we got through the pool stages and the quarter-final and we know how close we came to reaching the final.
“I think there are seven or eight teams who will fancy themselves if they get through to the quarter-finals.
“If you look back to the autumn, it was the best the northern hemisphere had done against the southern hemisphere for a number of years.
“And again, towards the end of the Six Nations (last season) we saw some expansive rugby played by four or five of those teams in the Six Nations, so that was a real positive.”
Wales face an opening World Cup appointment with minnows Uruguay in Cardiff next Sunday, and a landslide win is likely to be required against comfortably the group’s weakest team before Twickenham appointments with England and Australia sandwich a Millennium Stadium encounter against Fiji.
Gloucester flanker Ross Moriarty, meanwhile, has reported for World Cup duty after being called into the squad following wing Eli Walker’s exit through a hamstring problem.
Explaining his decision, Gatland added: “Ross was unlucky in the first place to miss out on the squad. He gives a bit of X factor, and it is a great opportunity for him.
“The door is not fully closed for Eli, and there might be an opportunity for him later in the tournament. It is not going to be the last injury we pick up in this campaign.
“We felt at the moment that there is going to be quite a bit of pressure on the loose forwards during this tournament, and we have only got five at the moment. So, strengthening that area for these first three games was important.”
Gatland, meanwhile, has showered praise on scrum-half Mike Phillips, who was called into the World Cup squad last week to replace a stricken Rhys Webb just weeks after being cut from his training squad along with fellow British and Irish Lions Richard Hibbard and James Hook.
“Mike Phillips has been fantastic,” Gatland said.
“The way he conducted himself after he was left out was fantastic. He sent a nice text to (Wales World Cup squad scrum-half) Lloyd Williams saying ’you’ve retired a legend’.
“I thought that was brilliant. I said to him I admire the way he has conducted himself, and I said I have been a great supporter over the years and of what you have achieved.
“Sometimes it comes a stage when as coaches you have to make tough calls. But he’s come back in and kept his head down. We know what a great competitor he is. His experience will be great for the squad.”