Rhys Webb has admitted it is time for Wales to start winning again this season.
The Ospreys scrum-half is unlikely to return when the campaign starts next month, but when his extended leave is over following Lions duty in New Zealand, Webb is clearly anxious to make a mark.
It will be approaching five years since Wales last won a Six Nations trophy or Triple Crown when the season begins – and although Wales beat South Africa last autumn, it is nine years since Warren Gatland’s team beat Australia and 64 since the last victory over New Zealand.
“It’s about time we started winning stuff again, though there are a lot of teams out there playing great rugby as well,” says Webb, who made his international debut the year Wales lifted the Grand Slam in 2012.
“It’s going to be tough but there’s no reason why we can’t.”
“The November internationals will be quite a good stepping stone now. They took a lot of young boys on the summer tour to play Samoa and Tonga, so it will be interesting to see these boys and the Lions boys come back together.
“We play New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Georgia, so again we’re going to test ourselves against the best sides in the world and then go into the Six Nations, which if it’s anything like the last one where everyone was beating everyone, it’ll be a hell of a tournament, which is great to be involved in. Hopefully it can be the same again.”
Webb was part of a Lions squad that made history this summer, by drawing a series against New Zealand, where they had previously only tasted defeat since 1971.
The 28-year-old got on the field as a replacement in the first and third Tests against the All Blacks, but in general he was forced to play an unfamiliar supporting role to first choice scrum-half Conor Murray.
It means there is a sense of frustration to set alongside the pride in two Lions caps as he feels he was under-utilised.
“It was frustrating at times. Personally, I was thinking I could have got on a bit earlier in the games and could have offered something else to the team, but the coaches obviously had their own opinions and thoughts so it’s just one of those things where you have to keep your head down and get on with it really.
“It was quite difficult yeah, because you know the coaches and after a win like that in the second Test, I kind of knew that they weren’t going to change much, so it was a fact of just trying to work hard in training and put my hand up for selection again for the third Test.
“The Lions was a brilliant experience, it was the pinnacle of my career. It was great to be involved with so many boys I haven’t played with or against, like a lot of the English boys, and there were a lot of world-class boys there as well, so it was great to come along and play with these guys as four nations into one.
“It was a brilliant six weeks playing with them and to come away with a draw was pretty impressive as well.
“But the challenges of a Lions tour are that you have to get yourself mentally right for game after game. I think I went playing the first four or five games, so it’s a lot really to get yourself emotionally high and then trying to switch off as well when sometimes you’ve got a one-day turnaround until the next game.
“That was the most challenging aspect for me, just staying focused the whole time, and I felt I did that although I would have liked to have played a lot more in the Tests.
“But coming on, I just had to get into the game as quick as I could and do my best for the team.
“I was lucky enough to come on and obviously score in the first Test. I didn’t get on in the second Test, which was disappointing, and the third Test I got on as well.”
When the end of the tour came with a drawn Test and shared series, Webb admits there was confusion, more than elation.
“I think when the whistle went we thought: ‘well what exactly happens now?'”
“We thought: ‘Is there one more game? Is it extra-time, or what?’, but look we play the game because we want to win and part of us was obviously disappointed that we didn’t win, but a draw after a lot of people had written us off was good.
“We believed as a unit, as a team, we could go over there and obviously create history and a draw at the end was probably the right result.”
For now, though Webb is focussing on his likely return at some stage in September, when the newly expanded Guinness Pro14 will be in full swing.
He welcomes the arrival of two South African teams, but says it was vital that the regular home and away derby games were maintained in spite of the move to two conferences.
“It’s massive to keep all the derbies in place. To play Judgement Day in the Principality Stadium, the crowds are getting bigger and bigger.
“Even when we don’t play at the stadium, we play at our home pitches and there’s still a really good environment to play in.
“In these derbies everyone wants to perform. You come up against rivals and someone looking for your jersey so it’s always good, it’s always a hostile environment and exciting to play in.”
Having begun his career in the old Celtic League, and played the rest of it in the Pro12 thereafter, Webb admits he is looking forward to experiencing the unique new changes.
“It’ll be pretty good, it’s interesting. A trip to South Africa is a positive, it’s somewhere I’ve never been and it’s good to welcome these guys into the league and hopefully they’ll add competition and the league will just get stronger.
“Everyone’s had their reaction to it and we’re all looking forward to the season kicking off and getting going.
“At first I just thought about the travelling, it came to mind straight away. Obviously, they’re in the same time zone as us but I think the travelling is about eight hours, so as long as you get there at the beginning of the week you’re playing, there’s no reason why you can’t adapt.
“Ideally I think you’d leave on a Tuesday, have a day off on the Wednesday and then have two days training over there before you play.
“It’s not the end of the world. It’s eight hours and then you’re good to go.”