Ken Owens insists Wales will be happy to arrive at the World Cup in Japan with a sonic boom of expectation, rather than flying in under the radar.
In previous tournaments – including that of 2011 when Warren Gatland’s squad reached the semi-final and Owens was the young pup – hope has always been well above any sense of presumption.
But the Wales and Scarlets hooker says he will have to be part of the best team in the world to lift the trophy in October, and that the ambitions set within the camp have not been altered by their current run of 14 consecutive victories which has taken them to No 2 in the world rankings.
“The expectation never changes within our squad and within our own camp,” Owens said. “We know where we’re at, we know the work that we’ve still got to do.
“We’re probably not going to go under the radar like we have done in previous tournaments and that’s because of our results and our form.
“So that’s an expectation on us and one we’re looking forward to. But we know there’s a long way ahead, we’ve got to improve and get better and put the graft in to deserve that tag as the second best team in the world – but we’re going to have to become the best team in the world to win the World Cup.
“There’s a lot of teams going to be chasing us down; there’s a lot of quality sides in the world at the moment and we’re under no illusions.
“Perhaps people are putting the favourites’ tags on us along with New Zealand and a couple of other countries, but you’ve got to prove that and earn that and keep yourselves up there.”
Wales’ rise up the world rankings since the last World Cup and the best unbeaten run in their history – Gatland’s men have defeated every side in World Rugby’s top eight except New Zealand since they started their winning burst – has raised excitement levels ahead of the World Cup to fever pitch.
Wales have also been boosted by the return of Bath back-rower Taulupe Faletau, who missed the four-game autumn series clean sweep after breaking his arm in October.
The two-time Lion then had to sit out the Six Nations after suffering another injury to the same right arm and undergoing further surgery.
But Faletau and lock forward Cory Hill, who suffered an ankle injury in the act of scoring a try during the Six Nations win against England in February, are back with the squad ahead of a two-week training camp in Switzerland.
Wales play England in two World Cup warm-ups, the first of which is live on Sky Sports on August 11, and Owens believes England will be aiming to avenge their Six Nations loss in Cardiff earlier this year.
“We’ve had some great battles against them over the last couple of years. I’m sure they’ll be wanting to come down and right a couple of wrongs from their performance in the Six Nations.
“We were pretty happy with the way we went that day and I’m sure they will be looking to get a couple of wins to build their confidence going into the World Cup.”
George North says the squad welcomes the extra expectation on the class of 2019.
“If you look at it as history goes, we’ve always gone in quite underdogs,” he said. “I guess it’s quite a new prospect for a lot of the boys.
“Sometimes, rather than chasing, to be chased is something different. It keeps an extra bit of pressure on you but a change of dimension as well.
“It’s good, it’s exciting to be in that position and we’re excited to get involved now.”