MIKE Phillips has urged Wales to play with “no fear” when they target an odds-defying RBS 6 Nations victory against France next Saturday.
But the contrast could hardly be greater between Wales’ latest appointment with Les Bleus and what unfolded at the Millennium Stadium 11 months ago.
On that occasion 2011 World Cup semi-finalists Wales beat France to be crowned Six Nations champions and Grand Slam winners for the third time in eight years.
Now, though, they are on the canvas, battered by repeated blows to their reputation, having lost eight successive Tests and five in a row at home.
Ireland’s Six Nations-opening 30-22 victory saw Wales equal their worst run of home Test match results since they started playing international rugby in 1881, underlining an alarming demise.
With coaching talisman Warren Gatland currently on secondment to the British and Irish Lions, several key players absent through injury and others having lost form, the combined effect points emphatically towards mid-table mediocrity – at best – this season.
“France are a good side and on form, so it is going to be immensely tough, but we’ve just got to go there with belief and play some rugby,” scrum-half Phillips said.
“When we get desperate we tend to play a bit better. We need to have an edge about us from the first whistle and throw everything in.
“We need to back ourselves and come out of our shells and really go for it. It’s as simple as that.
“We need to play with no fear from the start. We’ve got to cut the mistakes out and have the belief.”
It is an admirable rallying cry by the Bayonne number nine, and much will be made of Wales scoring 19 unanswered points from 30-3 adrift against Ireland through tries by Alex Cuthbert, Leigh Halfpenny and Craig Mitchell.
But that merely glosses over the true picture. Ireland, led imperiously by the genial Brian O’Driscoll, toyed with Wales during an opening 40 minutes that exposed a painful gulf in class.
“We gave away a lot of penalties in the first half and couldn’t really get our hands on the ball.
“We couldn’t get started,” Phillips added.
“First things first, we’ve got to start better.
“The game got away from us in the first half. We were off the boil.’’